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Interview with Colin Lacon, CE0, Northern California Grantmakers

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Profiles in partnership

A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

Northern California Grantmakers is an association of foundations, corporate contributions programs and other private and public grantmakers. Started as an initiative in 1965 and incorporated in 1981, NCG has grown to support the activity of 170 member grantmakers active in the Bay Area, with combined grantmaking of more than $3 billion annually. NCG enhances the effectiveness of philanthropy by supporting regional grantmakers’ efforts to learn, promote the field and connect to peers and resources.

Part 4

BB: You described the corporate position as sometimes being “selfish”. What you mean what do you mean?

CL: The motivation for most corporations is to do business and to make money. And if you’re going to be a good partner around this work, it’s not about how well this helps my profit or how well this helps my image or how strategic it is for me to get my employees to be happy and to come to work every day, it’s that the nonprofit sector is about the public good. If you realize that it’s all about social good, then part of your analysis is to help the nonprofit do a better job in what it’s trying to do.

Selfish may be a harsh word but that is the cultural shift. Just as I understand that the corporation’s bottom line is being helped by it, what’s the bottom line of the nonprofit? The bottom line of the nonprofit is not that they look good and they got the money, it’s the public good.

BB: Can’t being a bit selfish be good for the for-profit’s involvement?

CL: Of course it is! I’m not trying to take away the selfishness from it, because the selfishness or self interest, is a motivator for them to be involved. I just don’t want it to be only the self interest that drives them, exactly, I don’t want it to be a self interest that says I got mine and I’ll go. I want it to be a self interest that says that’s why I’m here but now I realize what we can do together to make the community that we all have to live in stronger.

BB: What happens when a nonprofit is attracted to the financial gain of a funder/partner but the project is “off mission”?

CL: What I’m seeing a lot of times is the nonprofit sometimes will go after things that they shouldn’t go after because they are looking at the dollars they need rather than the fact they’re going to have to make a commitment, sometimes in directions they probably shouldn't go. We call that mission creep. They’re looking at the dollars rather than their mission and their purpose they’re best at.

BB: Shouldn't the for-profit realize this and work with the nonprofit to make sure the funding is focused on what is needed most?

CL: The motivation around their giving is usually generated by their board and that board sometimes understands the nonprofit's mission but in most cases it doesn’t understand the work it’s doing. The board wants to the money go to the activity. And they want to see the results of the activity. That not necessarily selfishness, but it’s a lack of understanding that to deliver the outcome you have to understand the outcomes that are needed by your partner.

BB: So both sides have to understand these outcomes and what you’re asking of the other person?

CL: What I am saying may seem negative but it's really a positive thing as we need to recognize the challenges. I think that I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I think there are real challenges in how to create clear understanding and partnership in such different cultures.

Up Next: Part 5: What should the corporations do to develop a better understanding of working with nonprofit?

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit: www.bruceburtch.com

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