Despite increased enrollment in after-school programs across the country, Congress proposed a bill in March that would eliminate the primary federal revenue stream of many of these programs, with $86 million on the chopping block for New York State. To fill these types of funding shortfalls, many after-school nonprofits turn to private businesses. However, many private companies are approaching their nonprofit relationships differently and look to form thought-partnerships rather than simply write a check.
“I think a misconception that some nonprofits have is the only thing a company is good for is writing a check,” said Tessie Topol, Time Warner Cable’s vice president of corporate social responsibility. “That’s not how we approach philanthropy.”
Time Warner Cable partnered with the national nonprofit 826 to create a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workbook. The project took three years to complete and, after a soft launch in two of 826’s locations, the book is now available in 1,000 YMCA centers nationwide.
“We’re not chasing the money, we’re building relationships,” said Gerald Richards, CEO of 826. “Corporations are looking for ways to partner with the community [and] nonprofits need to bring on people who know about the relationship mechanics of connecting with them.”
Richards joined 826 in 2010 and was adamant about connecting the nonprofit to the private sector. Under Richards’ leadership, 826 has fostered relationships with Cole Haan, Sappi Fine Paper, and other private companies, in addition to Time Warner Cable.
“This is a very different kind of relationship,” Topol said regarding Time Warner Cable’s partnership with 826, noting that the project was successful, chiefly, because Richards “wanted a thought-partner,” and not a handout.
While private-nonprofit partnership models come in various forms, many often involve the sponsorship of a project or activity the nonprofit wouldn’t be able to provide on its own.
“Our organization gets some public funds, but in order to support more kids, we also get private money—we call it ‘braiding,’ ” said Lucy Friedman, president of The After-School Corporation (TASC), a nonprofit focused on expanding urban afterschool programs. “It offers opportunities and experiences to kids they wouldn’t have otherwise, particularly kids coming from communities of concentrated poverty.”
TASC has fostered business partnerships that have led to a significant expansion of services. Motorola, for instance, funded multiple conservation clubs for TASC schools. Barnes & Noble has sponsored story-making workshops, while Fania, a record company, supports a salsa program.
“[These programs provide] a platform for innovation and opportunity,” said Friedman.
For smaller nonprofits, which lack the name recognition of an organization like 826, approaching a potential business partner can be daunting. Candace LaRue, a nonprofit fundraising consultant and president of AfterSchool Works!, a membership organization for after-school professionals in New York state, said it’s a challenge worth taking. Many businesses have dedicated social outreach programs, with social outreach managers, said LaRue. If nonprofit leaders bring them actionable, engaging data, business will be more likely to want to participate.
“Don’t just show up at the door and ask for money—rather, build relationships,” said LaRue. “Businesses are interested in hearing about results, so using data is language they will understand. Make clear: ‘Here’s how we serve our population, here’s how we’re changing the community and here’s why you want to be a part of this.’ ”
For smaller nonprofits, it also helps to look for non-monetary partnerships. James Kim, founder of Bridging Education and Art Together, or BEAT, is in the process of doing just that. As of now, BEAT, which helps kids in New York City schools hone creative thinking and career skills through music production, writing and dance, gets most of its funding from the schools it serves. On a recent field trip to the headquarters of Spotify, the music streaming service, Kim had a flash of inspiration.
“The kids’ eyes lit up when they saw the Spotify office,” said Kim. “They were so intrigued as to how [the employees] could get such a cool job, and were able to discuss the various avenues they can take to get there themselves. You can’t show that in a slide show or a textbook.”
Today, Kim said, he’s in the process of reaching out to other corporations who might want to provide similar experiences for his students.
“Fundraising, grant writing, and all the normal ways nonprofits raise money ... that space is so competitive,” he said. “But with corporate partnerships, I think there are more opportunities to show that the impact that we’re making is real. And maybe they will be inspired to help us grow.”