This post is the third in a three-part blog series. We highlight our latest observations and findings on corporate-NGO and foundation-NGO partnerships gleaned from “Social Innovation Week,” a three-day program of roundtable discussions, workshops, and exhibitions to promote social innovation among Chinese nonprofits. The first blog highlights innovative social and environmental projects from finalists of the BSR CiYuan initiative-supported Corporate-NGO Partnership Award. The second blog provides insights on the emergence of employee volunteering programs in corporate-NGO partnerships.

During Social Innovation Week activities held in Shanghai last month, BSR and the Intel and Nadara Foundations hosted a Foundation-NGO Innovation and Partnership Forum. I presented BSR’s findings from a research report on the dynamics between foundations and nonprofits.

Foundation-nonprofit partnerships are still in their infancy in China, which means there is often a mismatch of resources. We found five major barriers that have hindered the development of innovative partnerships between foundations and nonprofits:

  1. A lack of social investment in NGOs: In China, there are few grant-giving foundations to provide funding to nonprofits. A lack of common interests in work areas also makes partnerships more difficult.
  2. Traditional partnership models: Most partnerships between foundations and nonprofits are around service provision, with few true strategic, mutually beneficial partnerships.
  3. Clashes in culture: Many foundations use western concepts and approaches to grant making, while Chinese nonprofits tend to have different approaches in their thinking and the way they present proposals and report on their activities.
  4. A lack of investment in innovation: Foundations are often risk-adverse and therefore reluctant to invest in programs that want to experiment with innovative ideas.
  5. A lack of organizational knowledge: Many foundations in China are newly established, meaning that staff members lack an in-depth understanding of a nonprofit’s on-the-ground operations. On the other hand, nonprofit staff members may be experts in their specific focus areas but do not always have a macro-level understanding of social issues.

With the aim of promoting more sustainable and strategic partnerships between foundations and nonprofits, we propose five solutions to these barriers:

  1. Map out your shared goals: Foundations and nonprofits should clearly define their partnership vision and mission.
  2. Identify and optimize what you bring to the table: Both partners should think strategically about how foundations as resource providers and nonprofits as service deliverers can maximize their respective resources and expertise.
  3. Commit to the long haul: Short-term collaborations make sustainability and innovation harder to accomplish.
  4. Invest in creativity: More mechanisms from foundations and nonprofits to encourage innovation will result in new, creative programs and solutions.
  5. Talk, empower, and branch out: Enhancing communication, diverse capacity-building strategies, and openness to new approaches and ideas are vital to achieving strategic partnerships and innovation.

Building networks between nonprofits and foundations, encouraging alignment, and developing diverse partnerships offers the opportunity for improved resource alignment and meaningful impact. BSR is currently promoting healthy and sustainable relationships between foundations and nonprofits in China through its CiYuan Initiative.