Power Dynamics in Corporate Citizen Partnerships

Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship just published this blog, discussing how Google’s co-founders incessantly argued with one another before finding common ground. The blog went on to point out that successful corporate citizenship partnerships must also put the work first, draw on the strengths of their partner(s), and focus on the impact of their efforts. “The path to successful partnerships lies in finding ways past the differences to address the important global challenges we all face.”

I agree that this is an important and accurate position. However, there is one key ingredient missing: the recognition that when corporations are working with nonprofits, there is a power dynamic. It doesn’t matter how solid the relationship might be between the company and the nonprofit, money will trump that relationship. Unless the company is seeking to recover from a press disaster, money will trump whatever good, positive exposure the nonprofit can offer up to the company. It is simply the reality. And there’s nothing that can be done to fix it.

However, we can and should recognize it because it is often the “elephant in the room.” And it needs to come from the company. Simply say – during the right time in the conversation – that, “We know that there is a power dynamic here, and yet we’re committed to making this as comfortable as possible for all parties, because we truly want this to be a partnership.” And it’s important to give examples of what is acceptable for the nonprofit to do. Can they respectfully disagree and gently push back? Can they be a “thought” partner? Can they offer new ideas and suggestions? Can they use funds differently than planned, and what process do they need to follow to do that?

Do that, and you are much more likely to have a strong corporate citizen partnership.

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