Connecting With Nonprofits
Nonprofits and business have a long history of collaboration, and the benefits run both ways. In this excerpt from HBS professor James Austin's latest working paper, three levels of collaboration are detailed. Plus: Austin Q&A.
Editor's Note— In his recent Working Paper, "Marketing's Role in Cross-Sector Collaboration," HBS professor James Austin outlines three stages of collaboration between businesses and nonprofits—philanthropic, transactional, and integrative collaborations—and examines the related role of institutional and cause-related marketing. This excerpt focuses on the collaborative stages.
Collaborations between businesses and nonprofit organizations are becoming more prevalent, important, and complicated. Marketing plays an increasingly significant role in these cross-sector relationships. This article will first set forth a framework for understanding alliances between companies and nonprofits. It will then examine how such cross-sector collaborations relate to four strategic and interrelated marketing areas: institutional marketing, cause-related marketing, market development, and internal organizational marketing.
Understanding Cross-Sector Collaboration
My field-based research on collaborations between businesses and nonprofits, encompassing a wide range of industries and social sectors, revealed a distinctive pattern in the types and evolution of relationships. As an analytical framework, I conceptualize these as the Cross-Sector Collaboration Continuum along which there are three types and stages of relationships (see Figure 1):
- Philanthropic Stage. This is the most common type of relationship between businesses and nonprofits. It largely consists of annual corporate donations of money or goods made in response to requests from nonprofits. The level of engagement and resources is relatively low, infrequent, simple, and nonstrategic. It is basically a check-writing relationship. The giver has a charity mindset and the recipient a grateful attitude. The relationship is valuable as part of an effort to market the company as a caring, responsible institution and even to market the nonprofit as a credible organization meriting support.
- Transactional Stage. Significant numbers of firms and nonprofits are migrating into this second stage, in which the interaction tends to focus on more specific activities in which there is a significant two-way value exchange. The organizations' core capabilities begin to be deployed and the partnership is more important to each other's missions and strategies. It is no longer simply a transfer of funds. This stage would encompass such activities as cause-related marketing programs, event sponsorships, special projects, and employee volunteer services.
- Integrative Stage. A smaller but growing number of collaborations evolve into strategic alliances that involve deep mission mesh, strategy synchronization, and values compatibility. People begin to interact with greater frequency and many more kinds of joint activities are undertaken. The types and levels of institutional resources used multiply. Core competencies are not simply deployed but combined to create unique and high value combinations. The degree of organizational integration begins to take on the appearance of a joint venture, and in some instances the partners have actually created new, jointly governed entities to carry out their collaboration. This stage of collaboration sometimes involves market development and also internal organizational marketing.
As depicted in Figure 1, as one moves along the Continuum the level of engagement deepens, mission relevance becomes more central, resource deployment expands, activities broaden, interaction intensifies, and managerial complexity magnifies, but so, too, does the strategic value.
" ... the more effective collaborations are characterized by clear purpose, mission congruency, high and mutually balanced value creation, effective communication, and deep reciprocal commitment."
It is important to note that progression along the continuum is not automatic; it is the result of explicit decisions and actions by the partners. And regression and exit are always possible. The Collaboration Continuum is particularly useful in mapping the type of relationships a business or a nonprofit has in terms of the stages. Generally, businesses and nonprofits have multiple relationships, so the Continuum can be used as an instrument for managing their "Partnering Portfolios." Not only can one ascertain the current nature of the existing relationships, but also begin to strategize as to the ideal mix of relationship types one might want to have and assess the organizational and strategic implications for attaining that. For example, within their portfolios, businesses and nonprofits might wish to continue to have several philanthropic relationships as relatively low maintenance engagements that serve useful albeit not critical functions. For another set of relationships there may be opportunities to enter into higher engagement and higher value transactional collaborations. And, for a smaller, highly selective set, the partners might create the more intensive and demanding but higher payoff strategic integrative alliances.
Collaborative relationships are multifaceted. Figure 2 provides additional characteristics of the relationships in each of the three stages. The evolution of these various dimensions does not necessarily take place simultaneously. Consequently, a particular relationship might have some aspects that fall into one stage and others that are in another, thus creating hybrids of different stages.
Figure 2. Collaboration Continuum: Partnership Characteristics
|Collaboration Definition and Performance||
Source: J. Austin, The Collaboration Challenge, (San Francisco:Jossey-Bass, 2000)
My research reveals that the more effective collaborations are characterized by clear purpose, mission congruency, high and mutually balanced value creation, effective communication, and deep reciprocal commitment.
Figure 1 Cross Sector Collaboration Continuum
|Stage 1||Stage 2||Stage 3|
|Nature of Relationship||Philanthropic||Transitional||Integrative|
|Level of Engagement||Low||High|
|Importance of Mission||Peripheral||Central|
|Magnitude of Resources||Small||Big|
|Scope of Activities||Narrow||Broad|
Source: J Austin, the Collaboration Challenge, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass 2000)
Excerpted with permission from "Marketing's Role in Cross-Sector Collaboration," HBS Working Paper, 2001.