Profiles in Partnership Part #4: Communication Challenges and Successful Relationships (Jay Jacobs, Part 3)

Profiles in Partnership is a a series by Bruce Burtch on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

This is part 3, for part two: click here.

BB: Sometimes communications challenges and misconceptions exist between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors that can get in the way of successful partnerships. What has been your experience?

JJ: I think potential partners underestimate the complexity for the nonprofit of absorbing whatever they want to give you.  As in volunteering: “We’ve got 100 people that want to do something Saturday, could you do it?”  No. You know, it’s just hard.  I think they tend to draw the conclusion from that that you’re poorly run and inefficient and you can’t jump on opportunities. Another is when they don’t understand how we work. They’ll say: “You guys mentor, we have people who can come mentor.”  Actually, we spend a year getting these guys trained where we want them, and it’s hard work.

BB: They’re not necessarily looking for long-term relationships. 

JJ: They want to create an experience.  

BB: Do you get restricted funding or grants that are bothersome? 

JJ: Sometimes organizations will fund us in ways that make it really hard to run a good business. Corporate funders above all should understand how you build an organization and they should invest in that way.  When you get funding restricted to a program or a particular piece of program, and when they’re looking at things like your overhead ratios, it’s counter to how they would run their business.  They need to fund in a way that allows nonprofits to run the way business are run.  

BB: And nonprofits?

JJ: I think a lot of people in the nonprofit space have really cockamamie notions about the corporate world and tend to make value judgments about them that probably aren’t either accurate or useful. Nonprofits could learn a lot from how businesses are run. Corporate funders should play a role in that. 

BB: What might be a model to help this integration of business practices between nonprofits and for-profits? 

JJ: Some of the big consulting firms are helping. Bain, for example, has an externship program. You have to pay these guys, but you’re certainly not paying them what they’re making at Bain. And they’ll be in-house with you for something like 4 to 7 months.  It’s typically somebody in their second year, so it’s on an associate level.  We had a woman here and we paid her what we pay our summer fellows and she was thrilled, she took on a major project for us. We learn from them and for them it’s a real exposure to a different world.  

Up Next:  Danielle Campos, executive director at the Bank of America Foundation

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit: 

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