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Building Values-Driven Partnerships


Social enterprises are organizations that aim to achieve social, environmental, or community goals while operating as financially sustainable businesses. Unlike traditional nonprofits that rely heavily on charitable donations and grants, social enterprises generate revenue through the sale of goods and services. The profits from these sales are then reinvested back into the organization’s social mission.

Some common examples of social enterprises include food cooperatives, thrift stores, job training programs, solar energy companies, and organizations that employ people with disabilities. While each social enterprise is unique, they share the common goal of using business models and market-based strategies to create positive community impact. Their work spans causes like poverty alleviation, education, healthcare access, environmental sustainability, and more.

The key motivator behind social enterprises is enacting social change. While earning revenue is important for sustainability, it is not the primary objective. Social enterprises measure their success based on their ability to improve communities, empower people, and solve pressing societal problems. Partnerships with these social impact organizations can help your nonprofit expand your reach and increase your impact. Connecting with complementary missions and pooling resources creates opportunities for greater influence.

Benefits of Partnerships

Forming partnerships with social enterprises can provide access to more resources and funding opportunities. By combining forces, together you can achieve your missions on a larger scale. Some key benefits include:

  • Access to Funding: Partnerships with social enterprises allow you to apply for larger grants and funding opportunities that may require broader operations or service reach. Smaller organizations can benefit from a larger partner’s funding relationships and grant writing expertise.
  • Shared Resources: Partnerships enable these social enterprises to share their human resources, physical assets, technology, and operational infrastructure. This can allow your organization to maximize the impact of your limited resources. For example, partners can share office space, volunteers, or fundraising platforms.
  • Expanded Reach: By combining your target audiences and service areas, partner organizations can help you extend your reach and serve more people in need. Your programs and messaging have the ability to then gain broader exposure through joint marketing and outreach efforts.
  • Knowledge Sharing: Partnerships facilitate knowledge exchange between social enterprises and nonprofits. Organizations can learn best practices from each other and collaborate to innovate new solutions to social problems. They can avoid duplicating efforts by building on existing programs and expertise.
  • Increased Credibility: High-impact partnerships raise an organization’s profile and lend it more credibility. Associations with respected partners help demonstrate an organization’s trustworthiness to potential donors and stakeholders.

By tapping into shared resources, organizations can gain economies of scale, reduce redundancies, and make progress on their missions they couldn’t achieve alone. Partnerships allow combining complementary values-driven strengths for bigger social impact.

Finding Potential Partners

When seeking potential partners, it’s important to identify social enterprises that share your organization’s mission and values. Look for groups that are working toward similar goals or addressing comparable social and environmental issues.

  • Research social enterprises in your geographic area or field of work. Many will likely have overlapping interests, even if not an identical mission.
  • Check industry associations and networks. These can connect you with peers who are cultivating community change in related ways.
  • Attend conferences and events for social entrepreneurs and changemakers. This allows you to meet potential partners in person and start relationship-building.
  • Look at who your existing partners work with. Their connections can often lead to new partnerships that make sense.
  • Use your website and social media presence to showcase your mission and values. This helps likeminded groups find you and explore partnership potential.

The most important step is identifying shared priorities and values upfront. This ensures the partnership will be built on a solid foundation and support mutual goals. Once you find groups with complementary aims, you can begin discussions around forming an impactful alliance.

Reaching Out and Building Relationships

When seeking potential partners, it’s important to take a personalized approach to outreach. Mass emails or generic pitches are less likely to garner interest. Instead, identify specific organizations that seem like a strong fit and craft customized messages explaining why you’d like to connect.

Attending industry events, conferences, and networking gatherings is a great way to meet potential partners in person. Look for opportunities to strike up conversations, ask questions, and discuss shared interests. The personal connections made at events can lay the groundwork for future partnerships.

Start small by proposing collaborative projects, like co-hosting a local event or volunteering together. This allows both organizations to get to know each other and build trust. Successful small-scale collaborations are a promising sign that a larger partnership could thrive. They also reveal compatibility of organizational cultures and values.

When exploring joint initiatives, maintain open communication every step of the way. Check in frequently, provide progress updates, and ask for feedback. Responsiveness and transparency helps nurture the budding relationship during this get-to-know-you phase.

Patience and persistence are key, as partnerships are not formed overnight. But taking a genuine interest in potential partners and their work can lead to mutually beneficial relationships between social organizations.

Aligning Missions and Values

When building a partnership with social enterprises, it’s crucial to ensure the partnership is mutually beneficial and aligns with both partners’ missions and values. This creates a shared purpose and vision to work towards together.

Take time to understand each other’s goals, priorities and motivations for the partnership. Have open conversations about how the partnership can create win-win outcomes that advance both organizations’ impact. Identify shared values and look for common ground.

Make sure both partners feel the partnership will help further their mission in tangible ways. Whether it’s expanding reach, gaining capabilities or increasing resources, the partnership should clearly contribute to advancing each organization’s purpose.

Set measurable goals so both brands can track the partnership’s effectiveness at driving impact for their cause. Check in regularly to ensure it continues meeting both organizations’ needs.

Partnerships work best when both organizations feel invested in each other’s success. Cultivating a spirit of service to support the partner’s mission, not just your own goals, creates mutual goodwill. With aligned values and vision, nonprofits can build robust partnerships that amplify their shared positive impact.

Defining the Partnership Agreement

When building a partnership between organizations, it’s important to formally define the arrangement so all parties are aligned. This involves clearly outlining the roles, responsibilities, expectations, and terms that will guide the partnership.

Some key elements to include in a partnership agreement:

  • Purpose and objectives: Articulate the mission, goals, and desired outcomes of the partnership. This helps maintain focus and accountability.
  • Scope of work: Specify the activities, services, resources, etc. that each partner will contribute. Detail the division of labor.
  • Communication protocols: Establish channels, frequency, and methods of communication to ensure regular contact, transparency, and issue resolution.
  • Timeline: Define milestones, deadlines, and schedule for partnership activities and evaluations.
  • Data sharing and privacy: Determine what information will be shared, reporting procedures, and measures to protect sensitive data.
  • Finances: Identify financial contributions, reimbursement procedures, and accounting.
  • Decision-making: Explain the process for making decisions, resolving conflicts, and initiating changes.
  • Intellectual property: Clarify ownership of any intellectual property developed during the partnership.
  • Termination clause: Outline conditions, notice periods, and procedures for dissolving the partnership.

Having a well-defined, mutually agreed upon partnership agreement sets the collaboration up for success. Partners should review it regularly to maintain alignment. Adjustments can be made as needed.

Managing the Partnership

Once you have formalized a partnership agreement, it’s important to actively manage the partnership to ensure it remains aligned, impactful, and mutually beneficial over time. Here are some tips:

Regular Communication

  • Set up regular check-ins between key members of each organization to discuss progress, challenges, and new opportunities. Monthly or quarterly meetings work well.
  • Create a communications plan outlining key contacts, meeting cadence, and preferred methods (email, phone, in-person).
  • Beyond formal meetings, encourage open and frequent informal communication as needs arise.
  • Provide visibility to each other’s leadership and boards to foster engagement.

Measuring Success

  • Develop shared metrics and methods to quantify the partnership’s impact and value add. Track metrics over time.
  • Collect qualitative feedback from each organization’s members on the partnership experience.
  • Report progress regularly, highlight successes and learnings, and discuss areas for improvement.

Resolving Conflicts

  • Address issues early before they escalate into conflicts. Have open conversations.
  • Focus on shared goals and priorities rather than differences.
  • Compromise when needed for the good of the partnership. Remain flexible.
  • Involve leadership if higher level intervention is required.
  • Don’t be afraid to part ways if partnership is no longer mutually beneficial.

Proactively managing partnerships takes work but helps ensure collaborations reach their full potential over the long-term. With open communication, measurable objectives, and conflict resolution processes, organizations can build impactful and lasting community partnerships.

Scaling the Partnership

Once a partnership between brands is established and running smoothly, there may be opportunities to scale it up to increase impact. Some ways to scale up a successful partnership include:

Expanding to New Projects

If the initial partnership project goes well, look for ways to expand it to additional projects that align with both organizations’ missions. For example, if you partnered on a workforce development program, you could scale it by adding job placement support or financial literacy training. Scaling to new projects allows you to build on existing processes and relationships.

Accessing More Resources

As you demonstrate the value of working together, it may be easier to access more funding, volunteers, or in-kind support to expand the scope. Consider writing joint grant proposals to take on bigger initiatives neither could do alone. Leverage your successes to get more community partners on board.

Extending the Duration

Most partnerships have a defined timeline for a particular project. But if goals are met, assess continuing and expanding the partnership with a longer-term focus. This creates stability and the ability to have greater impact over time. Set new targets and commit to an extended partnership.

Scaling up requires care to maintain trust and transparency. Make sure both partners are comfortable with growth plans and scale at a manageable pace. With open communication, successful partnerships can lead to long-lasting collaborations and social change.

Troubleshooting Challenges

Forming partnerships between social enterprises can lead to immense value, but also comes with potential challenges that need to be proactively managed. Some common issues that can arise include:

Conflicts in Values or Priorities

Even organizations with similar missions may have slightly different values, priorities or ways of operating. For example, one partner may value rapid growth and scaling, while another prioritizes a slower, more organic approach. These types of conflicts need to be discussed openly and compromises made. Look for win-win solutions.

Poor Communication

Lack of clear, regular communication can lead to misunderstandings, duplicated efforts, and frustration. Set up systems and schedules for ongoing communication, such as weekly calls to sync up. Clarify roles and responsibilities. Listen actively and provide feedback.

Logistical Issues

Partnerships often involve coordinating schedules, sharing resources, or dividing tasks. Problems like missed deadlines, unclear expectations, or lack of follow-through can sabotage the partnership. Build in project management practices like timelines, status updates, and accountability measures.

Expectation Conflicts

Clashing expectations or need for control between partner organizations can strain collaboration. Emphasize shared goals over individual needs. Foster a spirit of service, compromise and mutual understanding. Rotate leadership roles.

The key is to anticipate and discuss potential problem areas proactively. Maintain open communication, respond quickly to conflicts, and focus on win-win resolutions to strengthen the partnership over time.


Forming partnerships between organizations can lead to tremendous benefits for all parties involved. By collaborating, nonprofits and social enterprises together can scale their impact, reach new audiences, share resources and knowledge, and gain access to new funding opportunities. However, partnerships require effort to build strong relationships, align values, define agreements, and manage ongoing operations.

Some keys to success in forming community partnerships include identifying shared missions, being open and transparent, respecting each partner’s strengths, and maintaining regular communication. It’s also essential to develop processes for making decisions, tracking progress, and troubleshooting challenges. With good planning and committed effort, the synergies created through partnerships can help nonprofits increase their positive change exponentially.

By connecting with likeminded organizations, nonprofits can gain so much more than they could achieve alone. Partnerships allow combining complementary skills and resources to tackle complex social problems. When grounded in shared purpose and mutual trust, these collaborations can be incredibly empowering and fulfilling. With an abundance mindset and embrace of collective impact, organizations can create change on a much broader scale.