Community Business Partnerships – Beyond Philanthropy

A community-business partnership involves a business and a community group working together over a period of time to achieve outcomes beneficial to both parties, as well as the wider community. It requires teamwork, collaboration and a sharing of responsibility and rewards.

Partnerships can be project-based or extend over many years, and involve at least one business and one community group. The organisations can be small, medium or large entities. An organisation's involvement can rest largely with one individual, or can include many people.

Successful partnerships depend on:
  • Solid planning
  • Mutual respect
  • Shared values
  • Clear expectations
  • A willingness to listen and change if need be
  • A desire to make a positive impact on the community
While a simple philanthropic donation from a business to a community group involves a donor-recipient relationship, it is not a partnership.

In a true partnership:
  • Each partner contributes to identifying the right partnership model, not just giving or receiving donations.
  • There is flexibility regarding what can be given and received, and the expansion or alteration of partnership activities as the partnership progresses.
  • The business or community group takes a genuine interest in and becomes involved with the activities of their partner.
  • A more strategic interaction takes place through teamwork and coordination; it is not just based on money.
  • Partners benefit on a number of fronts; the result is more than just extra money for the community group and a boost in the reputation of the business involved.
Harvard Business School Professor James Austin offers a three-stage framework of the different levels of cross-sector collaboration. In a paper titled "Marketing's Role in Cross-Sector Collaboration", professor Austin suggests relationships are philanthropic, transitional or integrative.

  • He describes the Philanthropic Stage as largely consisting of annual corporate donations of money or goods in response to requests from not-for-profit organisations. "The level of engagement and resources is relatively low, infrequent, simple, and non-strategic ... and 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 organisation meriting support."
  • He describes the Transitional Stage as one "in which the interaction tends to focus on more specific activities in which there is a significant two-way value exchange. The organisations' 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."
  • He describes the Integrative Stage as one through which "a smaller but growing number of collaborations evolve into strategic alliances that involve deep mission mesh, strategy synchronisation, 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.
In a 2008 study of business-community partnerships in Australia, the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs concluded that the largest number of partnerships were at the transactional stage, with some found to be integrative. (Relationship matters: not-for-profit community organisations and corporate community investment.)

For more information on the benefits of a community business partnership, refer to the Help Sheets: