Prime for Collaboration: Partnerships between the Private and Nonprofit Sectors

This is one of a 13-part series exploring Cooperation and Collaborative Business Models.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb



The problem with being defined in a “Sector”

Throughout this article series, there are numerous references and identifications between the private, public, and non-profit sectors. This is a helpful way to allow people within those sectors to identify with the information and provide examples so they can see the practical application to their work and ideals. The problem with this identification is that it creates metaphorical lines in the sand and labels those in each identified sector as being defined by their revenue stream, not their aspirations or expertise. This identification is another example of how we create a Silo Mentality (which was touched on in a previous article), and how we inherently encourage organizations to focus their collaborative efforts only within their own sectors because that is the only place we think our peers and colleagues exist.

Leveraging peers in other sectors

In the private sector, there is a growing trend to place a high value on socially responsible business practices. According to the Harvard Business Review, this has been clearly stated by large industry leaders like BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, and Warren Buffet’s conglomerate juggernaut, Berkshire Hathaway. There is proven long term value created by cross-sector partnerships that help organizations expand, align efforts, and play to their complementary strengths. A large part of this long term value stems from the diversity of perspective that exists when collaborations are formed with those united by a common vision, but from diverse backgrounds. There is a very easy co-learning opportunity when the private and non-profit sectors cooperate. Typically organizations in the nonprofit sector can gain value from learning about private sector essentials like quality assurance, different revenue models, customer engagement, niche marketing, and economies of scale from cross-sectoral partnerships. Likewise, private sector organizations can gain value from becoming familiar with non-profit values like developing human and social capital, the ripple effect of providing ethical and sustainable products and services, engaging the Millennial Workforce that values purpose over profits, and the profitability of investing in building community capacity.

Accessing new resources

One of the undervalued benefits of creating a private and nonprofit partnership is the ability to access resources from your partner’s sector. This could look like the partnership accessing government funding from the nonprofits ability to submit applications for grants and program funding; or, it could look like the partnership accessing corporate connections and intellectual property owned or shared with the private partner. When there are government priorities to solve a program, this priority can bring significant focus and funding to support a strategy or initiative to remedy the situation. Private and non-profit organizations, with a shared mission and vision, can come together to engage the government about supporting a cross-sectoral response to their priority. This type of “mission first” partnership development can address some large social challenges, such as climate change, poverty, and workforce gaps; while being surprisingly profitable to the private companies if they can bring impactful, scalable, and sustainable solutions.

Here is one of many great places to start a Private/Nonprofit Collaboration

For years, there have been nonprofits who have been supporting persons with disabilities. These organizations provide advocacy, support, tools for accommodations, and access to social and professional resources. Many of them have had the consistent message that businesses and companies are not equipped to support people with disabilities, either as customers or as employees. There is a gradual shift that many companies are starting to make to create changes in this regard. For the most part, this has to satisfy a moral obligation, rather than for any meaningful business case beyond positive public relations. If the private sector could take the time to work with these nonprofits and look at the business case for accessibility, they will see this conventional thinking is a missed opportunity.

According to Global Business & Economic Roundtable on Addiction & Mental Health, persons with disabilities are responsible for an estimated $25 billion in annual consumer buying power in Canada alone. In a world with workforce and skill gaps, persons with disabilities – represent about one-sixth of all Canadians. They have an unheralded, but well established, track record of being reliable, productive employees. There is a significant ROI in investing in accessibility, according to a Globe and Mail article:

“Adults at the age of 65 and older outnumbered children in Canada for the first time in 2016 – a clear illustration of our country’s aging population. Statistics Canada further predicts that by the year 2031, one in every four Canadians will fall into the 65-plus demographic. Although their mobility may be limited, seniors want to stay active and engaged in their golden years and they often have monetary resources to spend on these endeavors.”

Also in an article by the Canadian HR Reporter:

“When an employer makes the decision to hire a worker living with a mental illness, it’s not only the right thing to do, it makes economic sense, according to a study. A Clear Business Case for Hiring Aspiring Workers by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) provides a cost-benefit analysis that shows a potential five-year net savings of $56,000 to $204,000 can accrue to companies that hire these people. These savings materialize due to decreased absenteeism, lower turnover, and increased output, according to the study.”

If private companies partnered with nonprofits who support accessibility and worked with persons with disabilities, there is a significant opportunity for businesses to grow an under-serviced and loyal customer and employee base. The nonprofits who have the engagement expertise, research, tools for accommodations, and credibility to support this demographic can be valuable resources to these businesses and become the leaders in addressing this social issue outlined in their mandate.

The Takeaway

For a long time, the private and nonprofit sectors have been like unsociable neighbors. They see each other, maybe waive or will have brief and awkward conversations if they do bump into each other. However, if they got to know each other, they would see that they have a lot in common and would work well together if given the opportunity. There is so much that they can learn from each other and there is even more that they could profit and benefit from by looking for opportunities to collaborate.


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