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Strategic plans and shared goals: How advising helps maximize partnerships between entrepreneurs and not-for-profits

By Gabrielle Piche

Staff at women’s enterprise organizations normally don’t set up partnerships between entrepreneurs and not-for-profits, but they can still give helpful advice to business owners, according to an expert from Mount Saint Vincent University’s Centre for Women in Business.

“Every partnership, of course, needs to have a shared purpose in order for it to be mutually beneficial,” said Laurie Sinclair, a business advisor at the Centre for Women in Business.

Sinclair has guided entrepreneurs through different types of partnerships with not-for-profits. She’s seen entrepreneurs sell their services, while others donate resources or money.

One of Sinclair’s clients donates some of her profits to a homeless centre.

“It’s part of the identity of her company,” Sinclair said. “Business more and more is focused on sharing your story and using that story in an authentic way to forge relationships with customers and stakeholders.”

Businesses can build their credibility and position themselves as leaders in their field by partnering with not-for-profits, Sinclair said.

“I think the onus is probably more on the small business owner to make those relationships.”

It’s the business advisor’s role to help the entrepreneur be strategic and focused, Sinclair said. Advisors should remind clients that the partnership isn’t only for personal benefit.

“You need to care about their mandate,” Sinclair said. “It can’t just be what’s in it for you.”

Some of Sinclair’s clients join not-for-profit organizations’ boards. Sinclair said she goes through a cost/benefit analysis with them when they’re considering joining. She asks how much time they’ll need to commit and how the role will play into their strategic plan.

“Maybe it’s just something they care about, and they want to donate some time as a give-back.”

And that’s okay too, Sinclair said.

Business owners are big assets on not-for-profit organization boards, said Kathi Neal, the director of development at Siloam Mission, a Manitoban organization helping the homeless.

“They have the leadership skills. They have the connections that we might not have, they open up new networks,” Neal said. “They just bring those special skills.”

Entrepreneurs can be great at event planning, campaign organizing and accounting, among other things, Neal said.

Often, businesses will approach Siloam Mission to partner. Over 60 businesses have enrolled in Siloam Mission’s meal sponsorship program.

Some businesses volunteer their time at Siloam Mission’s kitchen, drop-in centre or clothing room. This can lead to future collaborations, Neal said.

“For us, it’s all about building the relationships,” she said.

There are companies who’ve maintained partnerships with Siloam Mission for over a decade. They give their time, money and expertise. They gain advertising and the opportunity to meet new people and make new connections, Neal said.

But most of all, they’re helping the community — and that feels good, she said.

“(Companies’) partnerships with Siloam Mission is invaluable for us,” she said.