How Effective Partnerships Can Fuel Nonprofit Growth

by Jim Vella

CEO & Founder, The Vella Group
Published On: May 29, 2024Categories: Insights, Nonprofit Profiles, Strategic Guidance

When nonprofits consider growth, they often face a moment of truth. Can we really take this on ourselves, or do we need help to make it happen?  

Let’s face it, none of us are experts at everything. If you’re looking to expand your mission and don’t have the internal capacity to get the job done, it’s time to seek out partnerships with organizations that can help you provide more services, serve more communities, or fulfill whatever growing community need you’ve identified.

When considered carefully, partnerships can give you an efficient, cost-effective way to realize your expanded mission – an attractive option especially if you’re already facing fundraising and workforce challenges.

Also, by forming strategic alliances, you can better position your nonprofit to provide wrap-around services that are often vital to communities in need. Here’s a great example.

Pope Francis Center: A Case Study in Powerful Partnerships

Dedicated to ending chronic homelessness in Detroit, Pope Francis Center (PFC) provides meals and vital services to those experiencing homelessness, averaging 200 guests per day.

What started in 1990 as a church-run warming center has evolved into a full-service operation, providing nutritious meals, hot showers, grooming services and laundry facilities to those in need. Along the way, PFC has partnered with local professionals and agencies to offer free medical, dental and legal clinics; housing assistance; substance recovery support; and other vital services.

Next up? PFC will cut the ribbon on a 40-unit Bridge Housing Campus in Detroit’s Core City on June 3. This unique campus will provide residents with a comprehensive facility where they live in their own apartment for 90-120 days while having access to medical, respite, psychological, addiction, social and job-readiness services. After their stay, residents will transition to permanent housing, while still having the support of campus facilities and services.

To make it happen, PFC partnered with Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS) in Detroit to set up and operate the campus’s medical and dental clinic, which will be open to campus guests and community members. PFC also teamed up with Ford Land, Ford Motor Company’s real estate arm, which in turn worked with nine of its own partners to generously donate or arrange real estate, construction management, moving, food service and site operations services, as well as specialty furniture and equipment for the entire campus. There are more partnerships in the works as PFC hopes to offer other services to guests and the surrounding community.

Choose Your Partners Wisely

As you consider partnerships to enable your organization’s growth, be strategic about the process. Before you begin your search, engage your team to clearly identify your core mission and strengths – the areas where you bring value and lend expertise to achieve your ‘why.’ While you don’t want to outsource these core areas, it’s important to know where you stand and what gaps you’ll need to fill to achieve your expanded mission.

Also, be sure to keep your board members and key donors in the loop to maintain solid support for your expanded mission and the partners you consider.

In general, the best prospects:

  • Share your values, culture and passion for the mission.
  • Demonstrate a strong track record and good reputation in the communities they serve.
  • Possess experience and skillsets that will complement your work rather than duplicate it.
  • Have the capacity to grow with you and stick with you for the long term.
  • Are financially sound. For potential nonprofit partners, check to see if they are registered with the IRS as 501(c)(3)s, and review publicly available Form 990s to verify financial stability.

Once you select a partner, be sure both parties agree to a memo of understanding that clearly defines roles and any revenue or cost-sharing considerations. Your due diligence will go a long way in ensuring the success of your collaboration and the positive impact on the communities you serve.

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