By: Mollye Rhea
Alignment between a cause and a corporation is a key principle of For Momentum’s approach to social impact partnerships. Market-wide research, including our own studies, points to alignment as a key indicator of success. Partnerships work best when the priorities, goals, missions, and strengths of each side fit together.
So, what happens to partnerships when alignment is tested?
During times of uncertainty and crisis, it feels as though everything changes. And, right now, COVID-19 is impacting everyone and everything in some way or another.
Nonprofits are shifting to triage the rising and new needs for their services as the virus and the efforts to stop the spread impact the ability of people to get basic necessities. Schools closing, for example, means nonprofits are stepping up to feed the children who count on meals from their school.
Companies are shifting to figure out how to keep their employees and customers safe, including the shift to a work from home environment. Some notable companies have stepped up to make sure their contractors or hourly workers still get the paycheck they rely on, even while their work has stopped because of the outbreak. Microsoft was a leader in this area as evidenced by the date of their post on March 5. Thankfully, every day more companies are following their lead.
The uncertainty we are all feeling right now threatens the alignment of nonprofit/corporate partnerships. But, there is a need for nonprofits and companies to continue their work together for the betterment of their common stakeholders: the communities in which they both serve.
As an agency focused on corporate partnerships, we are hearing from our clients and friends who are facing tough conversations with their partners about how to move forward right now. Here’s what we’re telling our clients, both nonprofit and corporate, about navigating these difficult conversations:
- Be Flexible and Creative: Plan A has been thrown out for everybody. You’re not alone. But remember what your overall partnership goal is — making an impact. Both sides of the partnership have a vested interest in success. Work together to find creative, longer term solutions that still gets you to your end goal.
- Have Open Dialogue: At the beginning of the relationship, you discussed how the partnership aligns with both organizations. Obviously, those needs may have (for now) changed. Talk about changing needs and be honest about it, even if it means putting things on hold. You might be able to refocus your work together right now to meet the changing needs, and you might not. But, this will get better. Keep a long-term frame of mind related to your relationships.
- Demonstrate Your (Changing) Impact: Educate your partners on the effects of the crisis on your stakeholders. Your partners care – that’s why they support you in the first place so tell them about what’s happening. They may not know the full extent, and they may be able to help if they do. You are the experts: talk about what’s affecting the people you serve and talk about what you are doing (or need) to help.
- Be Authentic:
- Nonprofits: Of course, your mission is important, but there might be other needs that are more urgent right now. Be as understanding and flexible as possible with partners who are shifting their focus to more immediate needs. Don’t try to be something that you’re not and don’t “force” alignment if it’s not there.
- Companies: We always advise against cause-jacked promotional stunts, and this is still really not the time. Be authentic with how you show you care about your community, your employees, and your customers. Make sure your response is in line with your values and mission and makes a sincere impact. The worst example of tone deaf marketing I’ve seen so far is a local law firm offering a “free webinar” on updating your will.
- Keep Relationships Strong: And, last but most of all, remember, how important your personal relationships are with your partners. We are all dealing with changes, fear, and shifting news by the hour! But what won’t change through all of this is the importance of our human connections. Drop the agenda. Stop worrying about positioning. Just check in with your partners and see how they are faring. Yesterday, my stock broker gave me a call. On the day that the market experienced the most historic drop ever. He didn’t call to direct me toward any action or to promote anything. He called to check on how I’m feeling. And, it made me feel better and supported. I won’t forget that. I suggest you follow his example.
All that said, nobody has a crystal ball for what is ahead for cause partnerships in the coming days and weeks. At For Momentum, we will be watching the news, working to identify and navigate these new challenges and opportunities, and sharing what we learn. We are collaborating on a webinar with our friends at EFG – information on timing coming soon.
What questions are on your mind? Send me a note at: MollyeRhea@ForMomentum.com and I will do my best to address them.