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Sustainability comes through creating multiple links between organizations

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Part 10 from the Win-Win for the Greater Good series

Imagine two pieces of leather connected by one simple thread. You hold one piece and your friend holds the other. Now imagine that you both pull on the separate pieces of leather. The thread breaks very easily. Now imagine the two pieces of leather are connected by three threads. You pull again. You feel a brief bit of resistance from the three threads, but still they break without much effort. Now imagine that there are 10 threads connecting the two pieces of leather. Now pull, pull hard. With quite a bit of effort you might be able to break a few of the threads, but probably not all 10. In any case, the resistance was strong, the bond of the 10 threads held firmly.

And so it is with cross-sector partnerships. When the relationship consists of only one linkage between the organizations, let’s say the for-profit organization buys tickets to a nonprofit’s annual fundraising dinner, that link (or thread) can easily be broken. For example, no one from the for-profit organization may actually go to the dinner but it wanted to show their support for the nonprofit’s mission. There was no bond, no real relationship. Now imagine that there are three links between the for-profit and the nonprofit – the for-profit organization bought the fundraising dinner tickets, had donated some used computer equipment to the nonprofit and some of their employees spent a Saturday painting the nonprofit’s dining room where they provide free meals to the homeless. Now there is a pretty strong relationship with these three linkages between the organizations. Each year when the for-profit reviews their community relationships and contribution strategy, they will look favorably upon this nonprofit organization where they have developed three good links.

Now imagine the two organizations have developed 5, 6 maybe even up to 10 linkages. Now imagine trying to pull these two organizations apart. It's very difficult, indeed darn near impossible, to break apart such a strong, binding relationship. |

I use this example for two reasons. When multiple linkages are developed between the for-profit and nonprofit organization, a very strong bond and relationship is established over the years. This nonprofit organization is uppermost in the for-profit’s contribution strategy. Their employees are volunteering time to serve that nonprofit and their organization is receiving the benefit of higher morale and employment retention because of the satisfaction they receive from working in the community on their company’s behalf. Going down the list of potential linkages, the individual partners realize that many if not all of those involved in their organization have become engaged in this relationship, and all are benefiting from it. So much good is coming from this relationship, from these linkages and benefits.

The second reason I give this example is what happens in challenging economic times. When a down economy may cause a for-profit company to struggle, they will look to areas where they can decrease their expenses, and naturally, one of the areas they will analyze is their corporate philanthropy and their nonprofit relationships. If their management, community relations department or foundation decides to reduce their annual contributions by say 10%, who will they cut out of their nonprofit funding or partnership plan? Yes, the easiest to come off the list are those organizations where they have the fewest linkages. While these nonprofits may be doing good work in the community and the company likes supporting them, the bond between the nonprofit organizations and the company is rather weak.

Now just try to recommend pulling funding and company support away from the organization with whom the company has spent many years developing a close and strong partnership relationship, and where they have 5, 6, or maybe 10 linkages. One of the company’s senior managers is probably sitting on the Board of Directors of that nonprofit organization, and they certainly are going to object. The company’s employees who feel great pride in their commitment and volunteerism to that nonprofit will not want to see any change. The media coverage that the company has received from the relationship would stop and they don't want to see that happen. There is a long list of reasons why the for-profit will not want to sever ties with organizations where they have developed such strong linkages.

This is also a very clear message to nonprofit organizations. In difficult economic times, the companies that have the strongest linkages and partnerships with a nonprofit will, to the extent that they can, fight hard to continue to keep that partnership going. They have too much to lose and will receive too much resistance from their employees and all those involved with their organization. In most cases, they will look to lessen or possibly terminate their relationships/ funding with other nonprofit organizations with whom they have fewer linkages and a weaker relationship. Don’t be on that list.

Nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sector - it doesn't matter. The more threads, the more benefits developed between the organizations through cross-sector partnerships, the stronger and more lasting the relationship becomes, and the benefits to all partners and their stakeholders continue to grow.

Please visit www.bruceburtch.com for more information and to view Win-Win for the Greater Good.

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