New Directions in Nonprofit and Corporate Collaboration for Greater CSR Impact

In the nonprofit sector, it can be tempting to think that corporate trends or changes in consumer culture are not relevant to your day-to-day, mission-centered work. After all, as a purpose-driven organization, there are distinct and unique ways you interact with your supporters and market your mission. But in reality the corporate landscape and in particular, the relationship you have with CSR partners is significant, making it essential to consider how those connections to your organization may affect the ebb and flow of partner engagement and funding.

Nonprofit organizations continue to lead change, making it crucial to understand the current landscape of philanthropic and corporate engagement. Good Scout Founder Philips McCarty and President and Managing Partner Charisse Brown Marcus offer insights on the social impact trends every nonprofit leader should know and how their organization can effectively leverage partnerships to achieve more together and drive true social change faster.

Deep-Rooted Collaboration to Drive Social Change

Younger generations have played a major role in setting expectations for brands to participate in the philanthropic community and make a significant impact on lasting social change. Initially, many corporations partnered with nonprofits simply to appease consumers. However, this is no longer the case.

“Companies aren’t simply giving to check a box anymore,” explains Brown-Marcus. “Rather, they’re looking to meaningfully invest in specific issues, which are often influenced by employees’ passion areas.”

Corporations are moving away from surface-level partnerships and are choosing fewer organizations to support more deeply, aiming to make true social change by committing to long-term support.

McCarty emphasizes the importance of prioritizing trust as nonprofits build and foster corporate relationships. “You can’t expect your partners to keep showing up if they don’t feel deeply connected to the cause. It’s important to find ways to continually nurture those relationships and get them involved.”

Key Characteristics of Trust-Based Corporate Partnerships
  • Trust-based funding. Companies are now empowering the organizations they partner with to allocate funds where they believe it will be most effective and best used.
  • Recognizing expertise. Companies are starting to view organizations as true experts on the issues they aim to solve and are leaning on their guidance to understand how they can best support the most pressing needs.
  • Flexible partnership terms. Trust goes both ways. Corporations expect partnerships to be mutually beneficial, supporting their objectives while making a meaningful investment in the pressing needs of the organizations they support.
  • Operational support. As companies begin to view nonprofits as issue experts and prioritize trust and mutual benefit, they are increasingly willing to support essential operating expenses rather than strictly project funding.


Employee Influence and Integration

Marking a strong shift toward employee-centric CSR initiatives, companies are recognizing the importance of leveraging their employees’ values and passions to influence and shape the social causes they support.

“Companies are building from within through employee voices and values,” explains McCarty. “They’re using these priorities to foster internally what they want to reflect outwardly.”

This shift is two-fold, both empowering employees to take ownership of CSR initiatives and strengthening internal culture.

Key Characteristics of Employee-Centric CSR Integration
  • Employees at the core. Corporations are centering employee voice and values in their CSR initiatives, moving away from a solely consumer-centric focus.
  • Culture-driving CSR. Companies are investing in CSR initiatives that bring about cultural change within an organization and align with employee values.
  • Influence of ERGs. This shift has allowed employees to help play a larger role in selecting the social issues their company supports. ERGs are becoming a key influence in determining a company’s overall CSR priorities.
  • Leveraging employee talent. Employee engagement is happening at all levels within companies as they leverage their talent and areas of expertise to add value to the partnership.
  • Authenticity in CSR investments. There is an increased demand for companies to accurately represent their CSR commitments and commit to long-term investment in partnerships.


Complexity Demands Innovation

In today’s philanthropic landscape, solving complex issues requires more than just good intentions—it demands innovative approaches. Organizations are working to bring about lasting change around issues that are often systemic or seemingly intractable, and partners have an opportunity to invest in the critical infrastructure and systems needed to realize progress and overcome challenges.

“Historically, a primary partnership focus has been on changing human capital; now, it includes transforming business systems and methods of operation” says Brown Marcus.

Key Characteristics of Strategic Innovation
  • Multi-layered collaboration. Companies are expanding their support to organizations to include internal expertise, technology, and other creative solutions.
  • Investing in infrastructure. Funding new systems that allow impact organizations to quickly test and scale ideas is quickly becoming a key part of innovative corporate partnerships.
  • Maximizing corporate resources. There’s a growing focus on changing business systems and ways of working. Nonprofits need support to make this shift amid limited talent and resources.


Advances in Technology and AI

The digital landscape brings changes at an ever-increasing pace. More than ever, nonprofit organizations and their corporate partners must navigate the waves of emerging technology and AI together. With limited resources available, it can be challenging for organizations to meet the demands of this rapidly changing environment.

Corporate partnerships can be a powerful resource, leveraging their talent, expertise, and technological capabilities to help organizations become more nimble and adapt to the realities of new and emerging technologies.

Key Characteristics of Technologically Adapting Partnerships
  • Accelerating adaptation. Companies have an opportunity to invest in the long-term growth and sustainability of an organization, allowing them to keep pace with the changing technological landscape.
  • Tech-driven storytelling. Technology is especially important to impact-driven organizations as it allows them to expand how they tell their story, diversify their base of support, and refine internal processes and systems that enable growth.
  • Collaborative learning in AI evolution. As companies progress in understanding and integrating AI into their business operations, there’s immense value in sharing insights and exchanging knowledge with CSR partners to jointly navigate the AI transformation curve.
  • Cooperative technology development. More opportunities are arising for joint technology projects where both corporate and nonprofit teams work together to develop custom tech solutions tailored to the nonprofit’s mission and needs.


“To achieve genuine social change, the way forward requires deep, trust-based partnerships that empower impact organizations and reflect your company’s core values in action,” says McCarty.

Whether your nonprofit organization is working on nurturing and strengthening existing corporate partnerships or engaging new partners in your mission, understanding the changing philanthropic landscape and how you can best utilize these partnerships is vital. Finding ways to maximize the benefit for both parties can ensure a healthy long-term collaboration that ultimately furthers the mission and propels you toward your north star.

At Good Scout, we excel in helping nonprofit organizations devise strategies to build and strengthen corporate partnerships effectively. Our team specializes in designing partnership strategies and building infrastructure that aligns with your mission and enhances your ability to adapt to changes in the philanthropic market.

By assessing your unique needs, we can guide you in maximizing the impact of corporate collaborations to ensure sustainable and fruitful partnerships. To learn how we can assist your organization, contact our team today.