Tips and insights from Ashley from 13 years of engaging
the community to build the bridge alongside her.
Non-Profit Survival – Partnerships
By Ashley Thomas, Founder & CEO Bridge II Sports
For organizations whose missions are to serve those in need, finding partners is essential to fulfill the work.
Before you begin seeking partners, it is critical to know your mission and have a firm understanding of your values. Successful, lasting partnerships are based on similar values and belief systems. My organization, Bridge II Sports, serves people who may be seen as weak, limited, and vulnerable. I believe all people have value and deserve respect through all interactions, and am incredibly passionate about our mission of empowerment. I am careful to make sure our partners share this belief, so we are in sync in how we present the mission and grow as partners.
As you begin establishing partnerships, there are a few ground rules that I’ve found valuable:
- Developing partnerships takes a lot of energy, so mentally prepare for the process.
- Take adequate time to explore prospects. Don’t be afraid to go big.
- To establish successful partnerships, you must be able to convey the impact of your mission. People might have compassion for the work you do, but effectively communicating how it impacts people’s lives is key.
- Understand the value of statistical data. Presenting the human need followed by hard numbers helps build a strong case.
- When identifying potential partners, be sure to ask pertinent questions like: Do I need venues, volunteers, special equipment, or a particular area of expertise? If so, which prospects may be able to provide these things?
Remember, partnerships do not always have to supply funds, they can also provide in-kind services. Also, partners aren’t always corporate – they can be people, universities, parks and recreation departments, YMCAs, churches, etc.
After you identify potential partners, run hard after them. YOU need THEM. To get their attention, you must be persistent. Send an email intro with a clear and positive why. Follow up again, and again. Send a package of info that illustrates your organization’s story and mission. Invite them to your programs. Introduce yourself. Show them you have something that is alive, meaningful, vital.
Initially, you will work with their assistants. These folks are often the gatekeepers. Treat them with respect and the same care you would for the person you are trying to get to. If you should get a meeting, be prepared with your ask. My suggestion is to go in with three. The first is big (future development, seed planting), the second is a smaller ask that can be leveraged over time, and the last is an easy “yes.”
Once you have secured a relationship, do not brag or exploit the connection. These people want to be engaged because they believe in your mission. They are not a commodity to be sold. If you need to use the partnership for leverage, always ask with very specific details to make sure they are clear with your intentions. This shows respect for who they are, and getting their permission builds confidence in the partnership.
Honor change. For example, when mergers happen, leadership might shift, thus creating new influence and partner opportunities. Honor the relationships you have cultivated as those connections continue to build a foundation of influence. Then, ask for an introduction to the next leadership influencers.
Building successful partnerships takes work. We are fortunate to have many people within our communities who care, and who want to get involved and support our missions. Many times, we just have to ask.