Why Sustainable Industry-Nonprofit Partnerships Make Good Business Sense

Industry-nonprofit partnerships can be enormously successful at delivering health messages, prompting both providers and patients to consider a new drug/therapy or learn about a disease and/or an intervention.

Nonprofits play an integral role of helping to spur public behaviors that advance the common good while at the same time providing a valuable, credible source for education and information in public-facing awareness initiatives.

Beyond finances, industry provides invaluable marketing expertise and insights as well as real-world solutions (whether preventative or therapeutic) for the public good.

Industry-nonprofit partnerships, when carefully designed, can earn far-reaching public-private attention. They can resonate in the earned space of all types of media and can thrive on social channels, achieving an unremitting “surround sound” effect. The ideal objective of such partnerships is to not only satisfy the industry’s business goals, but more importantly, have societal health at its core.

By going it alone, industry and nonprofits are much less likely to realize business growth or a meaningful, longer-term impact on Americans’ health. And even if an organization is wise enough to realize the importance of partnership, many go about these collaborations in either a haphazard or conversely rigid fashion. Often, they are in it for short-term (less effective) gains, not long-term, sustainable impact.

Typically, industry forms nonprofit partnerships from a playbook—a get in, get out approach. Some will sponsor a short-term awareness project, rather than look at the overarching, longer-term benefits of sustainable partnership and education.  For some nonprofits, a myopic view of how to go about forming these partnerships can unfortunately lead to missed opportunities to advance their health mission.

Long-term vs. Short-Term Industry-Nonprofit Partnerships

Effective industry-nonprofit partnerships are more important than ever. Both industry and nonprofits need all the help they can get to increase awareness in an environment swelling with an overwhelming number of communications platforms, evolving regulatory requirements, marketing restrictions, limited resources, as well as an abundance of other challenges.

Industry and nonprofits alike can easily fall into the trap of an immediate, project-based mentality without deeper consideration of designing a multi-year, fruitful collaboration that can strategically effect positive, sustainable outcomes over time.

Those that do realize the benefit, forge long-term alliances that have the potential to educate, motivate, and drive action well beyond an immediate business or health impact goal.


Realizing the Full Potential of Industry-Nonprofit Partnerships

What’s needed by both industry and nonprofit is a mindset reboot. They must understand that any partnership offers ally development at its core beyond the particulars of a specific joint awareness program.

Third Sector Today, a notable blog by nonprofit professionals, calls out the need for a business value proposition that encompasses a return on social investment beyond the ROI/fundraising model.

Key considerations in forging new partnerships that go beyond the immediate need of either industry or nonprofits include:

  • Mutuality of mission: A clear understanding and appreciation by both industry and nonprofits that reflects shared interests.
  • Sharing of resources: A solid understanding of roles and responsibilities of the partnership—one that allows for program development based on shared expertise in addition to the usual parameters of staffing and financial resources.
  • Transparency, accountability and a legal/regulatory framework: A policy for ensuring full disclosure and rules of engagement that avoids duplication of effort, adheres to medical, regulatory, and legal rules, and enables a productive working environment. This includes standards for quality of work by both parties as well as monitoring progress of the relationship with regular communications.
  • Equality of participation: Ensuring a written agreement is in place that clearly defines agreed-upon roles, specifies activities or milestones for shared goals, but also assures active maintenance of the partnership. A mistake to avoid: Industry should not pursue a partnership with a nonprofit in the same manner they would use with business vendors. Nonprofit partners must be treated as independent health experts in their own right, while industry can bring scientific, technology, and marketing expertise to the table—important expertise some nonprofits may not realize at first.
  • Leveraging external resources: Hiring or aligning with a consultant, specialist, or agency (often in public relations) that can help design a mutually beneficial initiative that meets the immediate needs of both industry and nonprofits, but also takes a longer-term impact and sustainability approach for the future.

Partnerships between industry and nonprofits have shaped and changed entire landscapes in the healthcare arena.

In the words of Helen Keller, “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”