Working with the Business Sector: Pursuing Public Good with Private Partners

How can grantmakers cross the divide between philanthropy and business? Looking at the push and pull between sectors from the vantage point of those working in independent and corporate foundations, this guide examines efforts to partner with and influence the business world. Grantmakers weigh the case for engaging business, share strategies for working with companies, and identify skills for promoting corporate philanthropy. They also explore ways to bridge cultural and philosophical differences between the sectors. 

Highlights

  • Making the case for business engagement
  • Attracting corporate resources
  • Collaborating across sectors on common projects
  • Seeking change in the business world

What's in the Guide?

  • Seeking Common Ground with Business: Primarily for grantmakers working outside the corporate sector, this section looks at several key questions. How much business involvement in philanthropy is realistic? What kind of involvement should you seek? And how can you balance a need to engage business with, in some cases, a desire to change how business is conducted? 
  • Philanthropy and Corporate Citizenship: Intended mainly for people working in corporations and corporate philanthropy, this section offers suggestions for linking business and charitable activities in ways that benefit both.  
  • Forging Partnerships Across Sectors: On either side of a business philanthropy collaboration, cultural differences, misunderstandings, and simple inexperience can get in the way of cooperation. With patience and creativity, these can be overcome - or at least managed.
  • takeaways
    Playing the Flexible Broker

    Because of their financial independence, foundations have a unique position at the intersection of nonprofit and for-profit worlds.

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  • takeaways
    Building the Case for Collaboration in Your Organization: For a Partnership With Philanthropy

    Grantmakers working in corporations sometimes find it hard to get attention and cooperation from their business colleagues or senior management — not because their civic activities aren’t valued but because they aren’t valued enough.

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  • takeaways
    Building the Case for Collaboration in Your Organization: For a Partnership With Business

    Grantmakers in independent foundations may find that the first challenge in working with business is persuading their own institutions that an alliance is a good idea.

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  • takeaways
    Setting Up a Foundation-Corporate Partnership

    When private foundations seek alliances with business, they often do it through their grantees rather than on their own. But that’s not always the case. One foundation, for example, sought out a direct partnership with a large retail developer, in hopes of creating employment opportunities for lowincome residents of a city where the developer would soon be opening a new mall. The company had promised the city that it would give at least one-quarter of the jobs in the mall to residents of low-income neighborhoods. The foundation wanted to ensure that people who most needed and wanted the jobs would be able to apply, get training, and succeed once they were hired.

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  • takeaways
    Working with “Leadership” Companies

    Businesses, like most other organizations, pay closest attention to what their peers – and especially their competitors – are doing. Hence, the potential for a cross-sector partnership to have impact is much greater if a major industry player is an early adopter and advocate of change.

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  • takeaways
    Mobilizing Consumers Through Certification

    Mobilizing consumers through certification. One way to enlist consumers directly in the cause of business reform involves certification — that is, letting consumers know when companies’ production and distribution methods meet standards of social responsibility.

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  • takeaways
    Changing Business Practices: The Community Reinvestment Act

    One well-known model of business-nonprofit collaboration has been the cooperation of American financial institutions and community-based organizations in promoting and financing the redevelopment of disadvantaged areas. Foundations have played an important role throughout the process.

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  • takeaways
    To Confront or Collaborate

    Grantmakers and grantees point out that there are three principal motivators for companies to take up a social agenda: values, strategy, and the pressure of regulation or litigation, either actual or threatened.

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  • takeaways
    Dollars First, Then Deeper Involvement

    Often, the reason for pursuing greater corporate resources is not simply a matter of increased fundraising but something more strategic: a desire to raise companies’ interest in solving a problem or pursuing a cause. More than just dollars, the desire is to build relationships and a sense of investment among the contributing firms.

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  • takeaways
    Identify a Corporate Interest

    The challenge in these latter, more complex cases is to identify a strategic interest of the company that the prospective relationship might satisfy. Sometimes a community needs goods or services that the company provides, but the company has been unsuccessful at doing business there — perhaps because the company lacks knowledge of the community or has underestimated the potential market.

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  • takeaways
    For Profit and Beyond

    Why might business be attracted to the idea of collaboration? Grantmakers and nonprofit grantees point out that for-profit businesses work from a range of motivations, and that it makes sense to try to understand the norms of the company or industry you’re trying to engage.

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  • takeaways
    One Funder’s Typology

    “In my mind,” writes a grantmaker who has worked extensively with business, “foundations engage business in the following ways”:

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  • takeaways
    Coalition Building

    One foundation built a coalition in a large city involving several companies in a single industry, plus labor unions, community colleges, training programs, local government officials, and other funders. Despite some natural tensions among these participants (the corporations were competitors in the marketplace; the unions were not always in accord with the employers), the coalition hammered out a new citywide employment system for the industry.

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  • takeaways
    Why Work Together

    Consider a funder trying to battle a disease that’s prevalent mainly in poor countries. Controlling the disease involves not only identifying an effective treatment but delivering that treatment to millions of people, many of them living in rural areas without regular access to clinics or medical professionals.

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  • takeaways
    Introduction: The Case For Engagement

    Grantmakers have many reasons to cooperate with people in the for-profit sector. Foundations frequently collaborate with businesses to co-fund projects or organizations in which they share an interest. In some fields, such as banking or retailing, foundations actively support research and advocacy aimed at changing business practices — work that often focuses scrutiny and pressure on particular firms.

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In addition to helping you think about possible strategies for accomplishing your programmatic goals, a major purpose of this guide is to prompt reflection and conversation about the differences, tensions, and possible points of convergence between for-profit corporate interests and the goals of grantmakers. To that end, depending on your objectives and where you sit, you may want to share the entire guide or portions of it with: 

  • Colleagues, as a frame for thinking about what value systems you hold - individually and collectively - that shape your relationships across the for-profit/nonprofit divide. 
  • Grantees, as a prompt for them to consider how well they are prepared to function in dealing with potential or actual corporate-sector partners. 
  • Trustees, as a basis for talking about how your foundation might participate in the ongoing discussion about the changing role of business in society. 

You may also want to use some of the ideas and examples presented here to:

  • Bring forward in a cross-sector meeting or training program, when unstated differences in perspectives or values get in the way. 
  • Provide examples to share with potential partners about the role some companies have been playing in addressing social issues. 
  • Offer background on the broad context of cross-sector grantmaking to help frame conversations on strategic philanthropy.

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