Nonprofit-Corporate Partnerships: Why They’re Important and How to Find Them

Gia Chow
Gia Chow

Between your donors, volunteers, board members, staff, and clients, you’re in a constant state of relationship-building. And it’s a wonderful thing! You get to forge these awesome, deep connections in order to make a significant change in your community that REALLY matters. But with all the socializing, mixing and mingling, and transactions with your biggest stakeholders, it’s easy to overlook a very valuable asset: nonprofit-corporate partnerships.

I’ve worked with a number of nonprofit organizations, and every single one of them relied on partnerships within the community to fuel their mission. Unfortunately, these relationships weren’t always a priority for my nonprofits. After all, when there are donors to reach and staff to onboard,we’re all stretched pretty thin to begin with; strategic partnerships can get pushed to the wayside.

I can’t emphasize enough how important your corporate partners are for the overall health of your organization. Who are your key corporate partners? How do you foster these relationships? Why do they matter?

Let’s dive into the heart of nonprofit-corporate partnerships and how your nonprofit can use them to benefit your community.

a black and white photo of people shaking hands

What is a Nonprofit-Corporate Partnership?

A nonprofit-corporate partnership is a relationship between a nonprofit and for-profit entity in which each agrees to contribute resources to achieve a shared goal. Partnerships help pool resources and expertise, build positive brand association, and expand the reach of programs.

Nonprofit-corporate partnerships can take many forms but the key elements of any successful partnership are trust, communication, shared values, and mutual respect. 

Why Engage in a Corporate Partnership?

You probably partner with others in your community because you see a problem that needs all hands on deck. When everyone gets involved, there’s more buy-in and accountability to meet your goals and make real, long-lasting change.

Nonprofit partnerships matter because they work. From a nonprofit’s perspective, here are some of the key benefits of establishing corporate partnerships:

  • You Engage Bright Minds: By bringing together key movers and shakers from businesses across the community, these leaders, thinkers, and doers can analyze, research, plan, and implement using their knowledge and experience. When you have the opportunity to bring the best to the table, do it!
  • You Pool Resources: Nonprofits are strapped thin and achieve a lot with very little. Partnerships pool these resources and leverage them to go further. Whether it’s a grant, access to top-tier fundraising programs, or pro bono services, when everyone brings their best, the partnership starts out on the right foot.
  • You Build Credibility: Especially if you’re a small-to-medium nonprofit or are lesser known, the right partnerships can help validate your efforts and improve your credibility. Partnering with reputable companies can increase the credibility and brand reputation of your org.
  • You Increase Your Value: The more work you do in the community, the more essential you become. Partnerships help secure this value.
  • You Expand Your Reach: By partnering with companies, nonprofits can extend their reach and impact to new audiences they may not have encountered otherwise.
  • You Create Greater Impact: Large-scale change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Working with a corporate partner allows nonprofits to make bigger strides and have a greater impact than they would by going at it alone.

What Do Corporate Partners Want From the Relationship?

Building and sustaining a successful nonprofit partnership is more than just a financial transaction. Relationships are a two-way street and corporate partners are likely going to want something in return. Luckily, strategic nonprofit partnerships offer many benefits, making nonprofit partnerships mutually beneficial for both the company and nonprofit.

  • Elevate community brand and reputation: Consumers have high standards for the companies they do business with. They want to know that the brands they support are trustworthy, caring, and socially conscious. By partnering with a nonprofit, a company can communicate where their priorities and values lie. If customers see companies involved in volunteerism and nonprofit work, it creates a positive brand association, meaning they are more likely to hold them in higher regard, influencing future purchasing decisions. 
  • Attract new customers: By bolstering a company’s reputation, nonprofit partnerships help attract new customers due to the “halo effect” of the nonprofit’s good will. People pay close attention to what a company does and are more likely to buy from brands that align with their ethics and values.
  • Improve employee morale and workplace culture: Working to help others not only brings people together but it’s been proven to improve employee well-being and retention. Companies that partner with nonprofits or offer workplace volunteer opportunities are likely to see a boost in employee morale. When employees work for a business that prioritizes doing good in the community, they’re likely to feel a sense of pride in working there. 
  • Increase advertising opportunities: When companies partner with nonprofit, they’re likely offered advertising opportunities in return. We commonly see this through displaying a company’s logo or by referencing the company on marketing materials and social media. These advertising opportunities increase the company’s visibility, put them in front of new audiences, and ultimately increase sales.

Nonprofit-Corporate Partnership Models

Your relationships with corporate entities aren’t always one-size-fits-all. There are different types of partnerships with various anticipated outcomes. These are the six main categories of nonprofit partnerships you’re likely to experience.

Corporate Sponsorships

When we think of nonprofit partnerships, the first thing that comes to mind is probably corporate sponsorships. That’s because corporate sponsorships are one of the most common and visible types of nonprofit partnerships. 

(Invest in Kids 2023 Jane-a-Thon event sponsors)

Through corporate sponsorships, companies offset the cost of specific programs or an event in return for advertising opportunities. For example, a nonprofit may choose to display the company’s logo or name on event or program materials. Not only does this create a positive brand association for the company but the nonprofit is able to raise the funds needed for their cause or event.   

Cash and In-Kind Donations

Companies can also donate directly to a nonprofit. Donations typically come in two forms – cash and in-kind. Cash donations directly support the nonprofit’s operations while in-kind donations are non-monetary goods the nonprofit may need such as canned goods or socks. In-kind donations are not limited to physical items either. Individuals can donate specific talents whether it be legal advice or website design.

Workplace-Giving Programs

Workplace-giving programs are company-sponsored programs that allow employees to make donations through payroll deduction. With over $300 billion contributed each year to nonprofits in the United States, $5 billion is contributed through workplace-giving. Workplace-giving programs provide employees with a sense of fulfillment even if they don’t have time to volunteer directly.

While it looks like workplace-giving is here to stay, flexible and remote work has made it more challenging to conduct traditional workplace-place giving programs. Instead, companies are having to get creative with their approach. To encourage employee giving, companies may offer to match the amount raised with a donation of their own. 

Corporate Matching Gifts

Going hand in hand with workplace-giving programs are corporate matching gifts that provide employees an opportunity to double their impact by having their donation matched by their employer. While many companies traditionally match at a 1:1 ratio, there are some that will match a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio. That means for every $10 you give, you could stretch your gift by potentially doubling ($20), tripling ($30), or quadrupling ($40) your initial gift! When donors give, they can submit a request to their employers to match your donation dollar for dollar (or more). 

Matching gifts incentivize individuals to donate more to your campaign but corporate matches remain largely untapped. Despite more than 10% of individual donations eligible for corporate matching, only a little over 1% are actually matched at the average nonprofit. In fact, 78% of donors are unaware if their company offers a matching gift program, which is why it’s so important to promote matching gifts to your audience

Skills-Based Volunteerism

Volunteers are invaluable for nonprofits, making workplace-supported initiatives all the more crucial. Workplace volunteer programs come in all shapes and sizes but these programs are generally hands-on and have volunteers staff public and private events, and do behind-the-scenes work like putting together food boxes.

However, volunteerism can also extend beyond simply cleaning up a public space or serving meals in a soup kitchen. Many nonprofits don’t have access to the resources or funding needed to secure qualified talent with specialized skills, which is where skills-based volunteerism comes in. This form of volunteering has employees donate their professional expertise and technical knowledge in areas such as legal services, strategic planning, and finance. 

Volunteering one’s expertise is a great way for employees to make a difference in their communities by doing what they do best and using what they know. In fact, the average hourly value of skills-based volunteering was worth $195 (compared to the hourly value of traditional volunteering, which is $25.43).

Cause Marketing

A corporate partner may also choose to fundraise on behalf of a nonprofit using cause marketing. In this collaborative partnership model, a company drives sales by promoting products or services where a percentage (or all) of profits go back to the nonprofit. It’s a way for the company to show social responsibility, all while supporting a cause that aligns with their values. On the flip side, customers do good with every purchase. With 70% of consumers expecting brands to be socially responsible these days, cause marketing shouldn’t be overlooked.


Another type of nonprofit partnership is through corporate grantmaking. In this model, a company provides financial support through a competitive proposal submission process. Generally, companies operate their grantmaking program through their philanthropic arm. The purpose of these grants are to advance certain charitable causes so they will usually have specific guidelines and focus areas. For instance, a company like 3M may opt to fund global humanitarian work while others such as Walmart offer grant funding for projects with a local community impact. 

How to Find Corporate Sponsors

I know you’re eager to start forming partnerships right away, but there’s a process to follow that ensures the bonds you’re making are worth your efforts and mutually beneficial. To find corporate sponsors, the first step is to make a list of potential partners by researching companies that align with your nonprofit’s missions and vision. If there are companies that have supported you in the past, consider re-engaging them. Otherwise, look for companies with a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program or those that have supported nonprofits similar to yours. 

Pro Tip: GrantStation and Foundation Center are a couple of free online databases to help you weed through corporate funding opportunities. 

How to Engage Corporate Partners

Follow these 5 considerations as you engage with corporate partners to guarantee maximum effectiveness.

1. Set Your Price

As you form partnerships, consider the needs of your nonprofit. Ask yourself what levels of sponsorships, funding, or volunteering you would need from the corporate partner and what you can provide in return. 

If a corporate partner can’t meet your ask entirely, that’s okay. Remember to be flexible and work with them. Once you’ve established a stronger relationship, you can always upgrade your ask over time.

2. Communicate Your Mission

Before you meet with your corporate partner, figure out how to effectively communicate your mission. You can choose to meet one-on-one with potential partners, or schedule a single meeting for every prospective player to attend. 

In addition to communicating who you are and what your organization does, outline the problem you want to address and how you think the company can help. Allow time for discussion and provide partners some time to consider the role they can have in the process.

You by no means need all the answers before you show up on Day One. Depending on the length of the meeting, briefly outline the following talking points to present to your potential partner:

  • The problem/purpose
  • The solution or solutions (if applicable)
  • Relevant research
  • Examples of other communities and how they addressed the problem
  • A possible role or set of guidelines
  • Estimated resources needed

3. Use Volunteer Engagement & Management Tools

If your plan includes volunteer support, use a formal system to help track, manage, and communicate with your volunteers. Volunteer management is a lot of work, but it is especially crucial as you engage more people. 

Choosing the right volunteer management software can help streamline things. As a central hub for an organization’s volunteer information, most management systems allow you to manage scheduling, track hours, and send communications all in one. 

4. Have a Social Media Presence

Having a strong online presence lends legitimacy to your organization meaning companies are more likely to partner with you. When pitching to a potential corporate partner, make sure you highlight your social media platforms and website. 

5. Report on Partnership Impact

As we’ve mentioned, transparency and communication is key to any successful partnership. Don’t just reach out when you need something. Instead, make it a priority to check-in regularly and let your partners know the impact they’ve made with their contribution, whether it’s volunteer time or funds. Ask the following:

About the Strategy

  • Are we providing the service and/or solution we intended?
  • What is the impact to-date?
  • What areas can we improve in?
  • Are we collecting data efficiently?
  • What are we excelling at?
  • What is the response from our clients/those impacted by our work?
  • Have there been any changes to the way other communities are handling the problem? If so, can/should we evaluate our processes and implement any of these changes?

About the Partnership

  • What is each partner’s role?
  • Does each party feel as though they have a voice in the process?
  • Are partners fulfilling their intended purpose?
  • Have we surveyed partners about their experience?

Then, use your findings to deepen your relationships and continue using your corporate partnerships strategically.

Maximize the Greater Good With Nonprofit-Corporate Partnerships

Corporate partners are essential if you’re looking to make widespread change where you live, work, and play. Spend time developing the relationships through collaboration and shared goals, and remember to evaluate the partnership from time to time to ensure it’s the right fit for everyone involved.

Who are your corporate partners and how are you collaborating for the greater good? We’d love to learn about your strategies for fostering partnerships and using them to advance your mission!

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