Apr 12, 2017

5 Tips for Companies to Build Successful Partnerships with Nonprofits

Like many companies, Blackstone strives to create a positive impact within the local communities that we call home. In New York City, we are proud to have built a long, multi-faceted partnership with City Harvest, the world’s first food rescue organization, dedicated to helping feed the nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers facing hunger.

In anticipation of City Harvest’s annual Skip Lunch Fight Hunger initiative this May, we’re sharing five best practices on how to run an effective employee fundraising campaign. These secrets to success have placed Blackstone as the top fundraising team for the past five years, raising over $645,000 for City Harvest since 2005 and helping to feed over 28,000 families in need throughout New York City. 

 

City Harvest 1

1. Be strategic in selecting partners.

A successful partnership is a strategic one. When selecting a charity to collaborate with, consider the following:  

• Does the organization’s mission align with your business strengths or employee interests?
• Will it have a meaningful impact on your local community? 
• Will the charity be able to effectively accommodate the size of your company’s donations and volunteer groups?

Through the Blackstone Connects program, we support over 40 nonprofit organizations in New York City. Our relationship with City Harvest has turned out to be one of the deepest and most effective, as we’ve worked together to help feed thousands of families and neighbors struggling with food insecurity.

City Harvest’s size and programs offer all of our employees a variety of ways to get engaged with their mission to end hunger, such as making a donation of any size during an annual fundraising campaign; spending the morning handing out free, fresh produce at a Mobile Market volunteering event during the holiday season; strategic advising via leadership roles within the non-profit; and everything in between.  City Harvest works closely with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to build these curated events in order to enable more employees to connect with City Harvest’s important mission. 

2. Diversify involvement within the company.

Involving both upper management and cross-functional team members is an effective way to unite the entire organization – this is especially true when executing a charity campaign. Some ideas for getting employees across your company involved include:

• Asking senior members in different departments to be campaign co-chairs
• Promoting friendly competition within the company and awarding departments that put their best foot forward 
• Ensuring leadership buy-in on the charitable partnership

For 2016’s Skip Lunch Fight Hunger, we tried a new model at Blackstone where we nominated co-chairs from across the firm to oversee and champion the campaign. Last year, Ken Caplan, a Senior Managing Director in Real Estate, and Brian Kim, a Managing Director in Real Estate, served as co-chairs and internal champions for the campaign, in addition to the team captains appointed in each business group. Not only did their support help to galvanize energy within their group, but it also helped to signal that this campaign was truly a part of Blackstone’s culture of service.  

We’ve also learned over the years that Blackstone employees love a good contest, so we’ve typically structured the campaign as a competition. Not only is Blackstone competing with other firms citywide for the #1 fundraising spot, but we also run an internal competition among our businesses/corporate groups. The winner of the internal competition gets a trophy (and, of course, pride). Last year, our Real Estate group held the #1 internal fundraising spot. 

City Harvest 2

 

3. Develop interesting ways to incentivize donations and participation. 

A little extra motivation goes a long way in engaging people to participate.  Incentivize your employees by:

• Matching funds (up to a certain amount), provided by your company’s matching gift program or partners in a business group
• Awarding prizes to the group if 100 percent participation is reached
• Raffling off prizes to fun events to donors of all donation levels, with better prizes for donations of larger sums; this encourages both participation and increased generosity
• Strategically using Senior Leadership to help encourage participation 
• Sharing statistics from the charity, as it’s always impactful to remind employees the exact quantitative impact their donation will have
 
We’ve been supporting Skip Lunch Fight Hunger since 2005, so our business groups come up with new, creative ways to engage employees year after year. We have hosted Friday Margaritas for a group that reached its donation goal, and we have raffled off tickets to Summer in the City, an annual tasting event at City Harvest. We have also provided healthy snacks throughout the day to make it easier for our colleagues to “skip lunch” and donate. And we found it especially impactful to remind employees that just $15 can help feed 60 kids for a day! 

4. Be creative about using your company's communication channels and resources.

Think about how your employees communicate and share information with their colleagues. Review the communication resources your company has including your firm-wide intranet, digital displays in your building, or a cafeteria space where employees congregate. Use multiple communication channels to reach your staff, such as: 

• Firm-wide emails from senior firm leadership to communicate updates throughout the campaign and encourage donations
• Template letters for team leaders to send encouraging participation at critical junctures
• Posters on each floor
• Reminders on internal intranet
• Social media updates
• Mentions in weekly meetings, including from senior firm leadership
• Branded items on every desk in the firm. During Skip Lunch Fight Hunger week, you will see brown bags with the campaign’s logo on everyone’s desks.   
 
5. Shout out employees (or teams) who donate. 

When your employees work hard and succeed, you recognize them for it. The same principle applies to charitable campaigns. Recognizing an employee or team for their accomplishments can be as easy as:

• Sending group-wide emails to shout out teams reaching their fundraising goals
• Reporting progress at meetings and acknowledging individuals or teams in person
• Awarding rankings to top-performing teams

Last year, we had hundreds of employees donate.  While we don’t call out all of these incredible donors by name, we do provide updates through the week on our top five teams, and then ultimately announce the top three teams with Gold, Silver and Bronze rankings. Yes, Real Estate, we’re looking at you!

Corporate culture is so much more than your employees’ day-to-day work. Today’s professionals seek rewarding experiences not only in the office, but also in the communities where they work and live. Through building a sustained, impactful relationship with City Harvest, Blackstone has been able to make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors in New York City. By making thoughtful decisions about your company’s charity initiatives and investing in resources to bring campaigns to life, you can build a dynamic company mission that embraces both your business objectives and role in your larger community.