Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations
BB: What would you encourage nonprofit organizations to do as they are trying to get through these tough economic times?
TP: To do something that’s very hard and that is to devote some reasonable amount of time and resource, at both the staff as well as board level, to asking very challenging questions of themselves about how do we describe, how do we quantify as well as qualify the work that we’re doing. And more than just what work we’re doing, or why we’re doing it or the need that we are filling. Rather, it is to ask what is it that adequately either documents or strongly hints at the impact and the change that we’re making.
BB: Do you feel that a lot of organizations are staying to a path they’ve been on for a while and not necessarily investigating new models or where they really are today? I’m talking with a nonprofit in San Francisco right now that is finding its mission a little out of step with what’s going on today.
TP: That’s an interesting corollary which is: Are you a specialist in buggy whips and make the finest buggy whips ever known? So that certainly is part of it. I’m more struck by the number of organizations that really could learn a tremendous amount from the business world around summary presentations, tear sheets, I mean these are so basic but in the nonprofit world it’s still something that needs more and more push to really get Boards as well as staffs of nonprofits to understand that even when you’re doing the work of angels, the angels need help to demonstrate what it is that they’re doing and to really document what impact they are having.
BB: I’ve met many nonprofit executives who have never been in business world, many with a social service background, and yet they take offense when someone from the business world offers some advice on business matters or processes. Do you run into this?
TP: Yes. I’ve had wide experience in that area. I think the truth of the matter is that the world has changed, so I can go on indefinitely on sort of passionate rants about how the world ought to be structured and how equity and fairness ought to get a way better stand in our modern life but that doesn’t move people and it doesn’t sell. What does is the social entrepreneurial spirit. It’s somewhere in that energy, creativity and synergy that the 21st century movement of the nonprofit world is headed. And those that don’t make that adaptation, some will do okay, others are going to be dinosaurs, it’s going to be the La Brea Tar Pits.
BB: One of the best things about cross-sector partnerships is the opportunity for mutual learning and understanding.
TP: I spent a weekend recently with a group of CEOs of top technology companies and what struck me was the points of similarity not so much the differences between running their business, running my business or running a nonprofit. When you try to build out the capacity of Twitter, or to provide a greater amount of healthcare to people that are significantly in need of that care, it’s all the same principle of creativity and synergy and excitement.
BB: One of the great benefits I’ve seen is when for-profit employees volunteer with a nonprofit in their community and they bring back new understandings, new abilities that they wouldn’t have experienced in their current job.
TP: That is the deal about those kinds of multiple benefits where that kind of intermix of activity and participation. The unique feeling that nearly anybody that’s wired correctly, wired as a human, is going to come away saying, wow that was really neat, I helped somebody or helped something that really needed the help and it’s a unique kind of warmth.
End of series with Dr. Thomas Peters
Coming up next: William Murray, president and chief operating officer, Public Relations Society of America
For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit: www.bruceburtch.com