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The Value Exchange Tool: building business-nonprofit partnerships that last By Jarasa Kanok and Megan Schumann / May 2015 / Leave a comment

A recurring theme that has emerged in our conversations with nonprofits and social enterprises in recent months is the perception that, even as strides are made in cross-sector collaborations, a persistent power imbalance exists in partnerships with for-profit corporations. Social sector organizations clearly see significant benefits of partnering with a corporation – but they often struggle to articulate the value they bring to the relationship, in terms that resonate with their corporate partner. We have created a simple value exchange tool (download here) to help non-profits and social enterprises more crisply articulate the kinds of value they stand to offer for-profit partners and would expect to gain in return—one that we believe is valuable for business leaders as well.

Much has been written in recent years about “shared value” approaches to building social impact goals into the heart of a businesses’ practices. Partnering with nonprofits is integral to that work, but so far the discussion of shared value hasn’t yielded practical tools to make those partnerships effective. Such tools are needed, since the leap from identifying a potential partner towards agreeing to the “gives and gets” between partners isn’t always a straightforward process. Add in the fact that the social sector partner often brings contributions that are more qualitative in nature and harder to measure, and a risk surfaces that some contributions may remain obscured and therefore undervalued. We believe that clearly articulating the capabilities and value a social sector organization brings to a partnership is critical to attracting new partners and positioning partnerships for success.

To that end, the value exchange tool provides a frame for capturing four distinct categories of value where each party stands to benefit and contribute – Reach, Assets, Reputation, and Capabilities:

  • Reach: How will this exchange open new doors and bring greater scale?
  • Assets: When resources are pooled, what goals are now within reach?
  • Reputation: In what ways will this boost visibility and enhance perception with stakeholders?
  • Capabilities: What learning opportunities will this present and skills could be deployed?

In answering these questions, a partner may find that its organization excels in one dominant category or a combination of categories. Perhaps it brings a strong network of active members, who will be valuable when it comes to expanding the reach of the partnership, or strong name-recognition that will add reputational credibility to the collaboration. Populating the tool pushes potential partners to identify their strengths, and also reveals gaps where the contributions of a partner could complement the organization’s own capabilities. By specifically naming the kinds of value being exchanged in a partnership, this tool may help social sector organizations offer more compelling reasons for for-profits to partner with them, stimulate more creative, innovative thinking about how for-profits and social sector organizations can work together, and suggests more specific ways to measure the success of a given partnership. For for-profit leaders, it could help stimulate better-quality conversation with potential nonprofit partners, articulate the rationale for partnership to share with senior leaders in the organization, and likewise suggest specific ways to pursue measurement.

We see what we are sharing here as an initial version of this tool that we expect to evolve over time. Recently we had the chance to discuss the tool and share our thinking with others focused on business-nonprofit partnerships at an event co-hosted by the White House, Points of Light’s Billion + Change, and the US Department of Commerce where we found many others similarly interested in better articulating the value that each contributes to a collaboration. Now we are curious to hear your perspective: What kinds of contributions have you seen corporations and social sector organizations bring to a partnership?  Do you view reach, assets, reputation, and capabilities as important aspects of a partnership, or are there other kinds of value that you would prioritize over these four?

Download the tool and tell us what you think.

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