(This post first appeared in the San Diego Business Journal, November 2017)

Have you ever really thought about what kind of partner your nonprofit is?

It’s a great question to put before your board to elicit a juicy conversation.  I wrote this blog to company execs, to help them understand what to look for in a partner, so feel free to forward it.  But I’m also writing this for you – so you can ask yourselves these same questions and do some reflecting.  Do you need to tighten up any areas?  Or can you proudly move forward because you’re ahead of the game?  I’d love to hear your comments below!

Here we go…

As a company executive, you are faced with important decisions about how to support the community in a way that drives positive social impact. Partnering with a nonprofit is a common way to do this but how do you know which ones to work alongside?

You may be interested in serving on the board. You may be looking for meaningful volunteer experiences for your employees. Or you may even be seeking philanthropic opportunities that align with your goals.

Don’t be shy! Your company should demand a deserving partner, so sit down with the CEO and/or a board member and see what you can learn.  Passion for their mission isn’t enough.

Start with a review of their 990 and then consider these 5 questions:

1. Does the organization have a strategic plan that is created and evaluated by the board? This will tell you if the board understands their role in setting strategic direction and it can also hint at the strength of leadership. Do you want to get involved with a nonprofit that doesn’t have a good handle on where they are going?

2. Are the organization’s beneficiaries satisfied with the organization? How do they know? The most effective nonprofits are in touch with the people they serve. They create feedback loops and stay engaged so they understand changing community needs and can evaluate the impact their work is having. It’s tough to justify supporting a nonprofit that doesn’t measure results.

3. Are you comfortable with the organization’s funding model and is there diversity among revenue sources? Or are they mostly dependent on charitable giving and start from scratch each year? You’re likely interested in a long-term sustainability strategy vs a crisis fundraising approach. It’s worth asking if they have 100% board giving also.

4. Does the organization provide opportunities for leadership development – both on the staff and volunteer side. You can learn a lot about a nonprofit by how they invest in their human capital. If you’re going to serve on the board, it’s a reasonable expectation to think you will gain from the experience. If training and education are the first things cut from the budget when things get tight, their priorities may be off. Strive to team up with the best and the brightest.

5. How much overlap is there between your customers and the nonprofit’s audience? Regardless of how you end up partnering with a nonprofit, good business sense tells you to find some alignment here. Not only do you want your employees to find value in the volunteer opportunities, but how can this partnership positively affect your bottom line?

And be prepared to answer some questions from them.

A great nonprofit leader will want to know why you see them as a potential partner and will do their diligence to ensure your company is worthy of them also. And if they don’t, then that’s a red flag.

So what do you think?  Share your thoughts below.