Measuring the Impact and Success of a Nonprofit-Corporate Partnership

Social Impact and ROI

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from companies regarding nonprofit-corporate partnerships is this:

“How can we best measure the ROI and impact a partnership has on our company, for our nonprofit partner, and for the community as a whole?”

“Impact” means different things to different people. Before you can measure impact and ROI, you need to:

  1. Answer the question, “What do you want to accomplish through this partnership?”
  2. Consider whether or not the partner you have chosen is a good fit (for you and for them), and
  3. Define what “impact” means to you and your partner.

Values and Expertise

Before you select a partner, you need to look within your company. 

  • What are your company’s values?
  • What is important to your employees and other key stakeholders?
  • What resources – financial, human capital, goods – can you contribute to the community?
  • What is your expertise, your specialty?
  • What would you like to be known for in the community?

The answers may seem obvious to you, but the common hurdle many organizations face is the next question:

"What specific need or problem in the community is your organization best suited to address?"  

Some needs are more visible and apparent than others.  If you look a little deeper into a cause, is there a lesser known, but equally important need that could benefit from your support?  A good example is of a partnership between a nonprofit called, Boys Town, and apparel retailer, The Buckle. The Buckle could have done one of the more obvious philanthropic actions of donating apparel to a shelter and stopped with that.  But instead, they met with Boys Town where The Buckle learned their apparel (and employees) could play an incredible role in building kids’ confidence and self-esteem, while helping Boys Town with their clothing budget challenge. You can read more about this partnership in our blog post here.

Finding the Right Fit

Don’t worry if you can’t answer these questions and identify a cause on your own.  A business decision of this magnitude may necessitate outside guidance from a strategic partner like America’s Charities. Our background and 35 years of experience providing employers and nonprofit organizations with charitable giving services and employee engagement solutions puts us in a unique position to help your organization identify which need(s) and nonprofit partner(s) would make the most sense for you. Whether you need help identifying a charity partner, or have hundreds of nonprofits that have reached out to you for support, we can help find the right partnership fit for you (click here to initiate a conversation with us).

Defining Goals and Impact

Once you have identified a charity partner who is a good fit for the need your company would like to address, next step is to have detailed discussions with that partner to identify what “impact” means to each of you, and what measurements will define a successful outcome.  Since every partnership is unique there are no general “systematic measurements” for success that can be applied to every situation.  At times, success can be measured immediately upon completion of a project, or it may take a few years to measure due to the nature of the project.  The key is to be clear about what success means and have patience while waiting for the results.

Below are some things to consider during the initial conversations with your partner:

  • Set clear, realistic, shared goals that will benefit both partners and specify who is responsible for delivering what.
  • Determine how long the relationship will last and put an exit strategy in place.  Due to the nature of your partnership, some projects may be completed within a couple months, while other projects may take a few years. Consider starting out on a smaller, simple scale to show proof of life over a period of time and to test out the partnership.  Put an exit strategy in place to ensure your organization leaves the nonprofit in a better place once your partnership has accomplished its goals.
  • A partnership is two-sided. Are there existing methods your nonprofit partner practices that can be used to measure your impact? Measuring impact should not be about collecting more data, but rather what information is absolutely necessary to prove your success.  As a company, you obviously don’t want to burden your nonprofit partner, but don’t be afraid to look to them to help provide some of the answers and indicators of success.
  • Stay within your means. Even if there is an ideal way to measure a program’s success, your nonprofit partner may not have the human capital or skills necessary to collect the information.  Your company could help out financially so the nonprofit can hire someone for the job; you may involve your employees who have the skills needed for measuring the program’s success; or you might need to identify an alternative, less ideal measure of success that works within the means of both organizations. Perhaps your company can utilize an existing technology solution to assist with measurement.  America’s Charities powered by Causecast provides a holistic, easy-to-use platform for collecting, measuring and reporting on results for things like online giving, volunteer management, and other creative charitable giving and employee engagement initiatives. Talk to us about your objectives and we can give you a demo of how the platform can be used to address your needs.
  • Impact can be measured by quantitative or qualitative data. Impact depends on what goals you set.  What question(s) will your program evaluation answer? For instance, “How many students improved their grade level of reading” (quantitative) vs. “Did the students have a valuable, rewarding experience” (qualitative).  You can take a similar approach to evaluating the impact the partnership has on your company.  By using surveys, you can evaluate if your involvement in this nonprofit partnership has changed the employee’s (or another stakeholder’s) perception and loyalty to your company.  Or when using employee evaluations, you can gauge improvement in skill levels of employees before and after volunteering with your nonprofit partner. One company who did this well is CH2M Hill, which you can read about in this blog post.
  • Use Benchmarks and case studies as a roadmap for your partnership.  Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Verizon and Campbell Soup commissioned a study called Project ROI, which was conducted by IO Sustainability and Babson College.  Not only does it outline a roadmap of best practices for companies that want to improve effectiveness and authenticity of their CSR approach, it proves the value of CSR in driving employee satisfaction, productivity and retention. Read the study and use it to get buy-in for your nonprofit partnership from your investors and leadership.  America’s Charities can also help provide benchmarking data to compare your companies’ efforts against your peers and competitors.

Measuring the success of a nonprofit-corporate partnership doesn’t have to be hard.  If you bring the right partners and experts together, and are honest and realistic about your objectives and expectations, your partnership can have a significant impact on the nonprofit and the community, while also benefiting your business.

For more advice and assistance with your specific needs, contact our America’s Charities team today.

Stay tuned to this blog series and subscribe to our newsletter for updates as we bring you more questions from practitioners and answers from our team regarding engaging Millennials, volunteerism best practices, the practicalities of tools, tactics and technology, and more.