Navigating Power Dynamics to Create “Sticky” Relationships | npENGAGE

Navigating Power Dynamics to Create “Sticky” Relationships

By on Dec 10, 2018


In our last npENGAGE post, we shared some advice for establishing a trusting corporate volunteer relationship that results in not only great project outcomes, but also sets the foundation for a successful long term partnership. This idea of “sticky” relationships that enable companies and nonprofits to drive meaningful progress on both mission and business goals is the third (and final) characteristic of The Knitting Factor, or Common Impact’s concept on creating transformative skills-based service.

Sticky relationships are meaningful partnerships that sustain far past an initial volunteer opportunity. Creating these relationships takes intention, time and an appreciation of the knowledge, resources and needs of both parties.

However, sometimes the corporate/nonprofit power dynamic can sidetrack even the most promising of partnerships. Achieving equality in the relationship can be especially challenging when there has been an exchange of funding or other resources. Corporate expectations can sometimes force nonprofits to rethink their needs in order to match the priorities of their funders. Given Common Impact’s experience crafting skills-based volunteer programs, we have a few tips to help nonprofit professionals successfully navigate the power dynamic to make all of their volunteer relationships “sticky” ones.

Don’t be afraid to say no or redirect resources

Before you even start a skills-based volunteer program, be sure that the project meets your organization’s needs and goals. If it doesn’t, say so. It is OK, and often appreciated, to decline or postpone unnecessary resources. Skills-based volunteerism is put to its best use when addressing under-resourced or under-funded areas of a nonprofit’s operations. Be honest and upfront about where you can use help and direct your volunteers to the projects that will be most impactful for your organization and mission.

Create a culture of trust, open communication and feedback
Remember that you are the expert on your organization and issue area. While your volunteers may have business experience that you can learn from, they are also seeking knowledge from you to better understand your nonprofit’s culture, mission or constituent needs. Be upfront about your organization, trust in the expertise of your volunteers and approach the partnership with an open, learning mindset. It is also helpful to establish feedback as a positive and valuable part of your collaboration. Be open to both receiving and providing feedback and set an example for this by offering and asking for it early in your partnership.

Encourage your partners to stay engaged beyond the project
Pro bono service can be a gateway to a longer-term relationship with your volunteers. Use your project as an opportunity to introduce new parts of your organization, garner excitement for your mission, and actively discuss ways your volunteers can remain engaged in
your programs.

Ultimately, the success of any skilled volunteer effort is grounded in the people involved – both corporate volunteers and nonprofit staff. A recent example of a sticky relationship at its best is this story of collaboration from Common Impact partner Charles Schwab and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in creating a club playbook.

Charles Schwab hosts an annual Pro Bono Challenge, an event that uses a “flash consulting” model to provide nonprofit leaders with the capacity building resources they need in a “quick hit” format that yields long term results and engagement. Through collaboration across many years of challenges, regions, nonprofit leaders and volunteers, the team identified a common need – a playbook of tools, templates, tips and resources that could align chapter activities to the overarching Boys & Girls Clubs of America 2025 strategic plan. What made this relationship so successful was the open communication between the nonprofit and corporate partners that enabled resources to be directed to the organization’s most pressing needs.

“Many Boys & Girls Clubs face similar business challenges on a local level,” said Tim Hogan, National Director of Corporate & Cause Partnerships at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “By partnering with Charles Schwab and Common Impact we will be able help Boys & Girls Club organizations customize and operationalize a common strategic vision, which will ultimately strengthen the capacity of clubs across the country.”


We’d love to hear how your organization has navigated the power dynamics to create successful partnership. Please share your best advice in the comments below.  


Danielle Holly is CEO of Common Impact, an organization that designs programs that direct companies most strategic philanthropic asset – their people – to the seemingly intractable social challenges they’re best positioned to address. Danielle has supported hundreds of nonprofit organizations on positioning and branding strategies to more effectively scale their models of social impact.  In addition, Danielle has helped numerous corporations navigate the new era in corporate social responsibility and skills-based volunteering, including global powerhouses JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab, Marriott International, and Fidelity Investments. She is a contributing writer for Nonprofit Quarterly on strategic corporate engagement.  She is a member of the NationSwell Council, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and Net Impact NYC. You can reach her via email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @dholly8.

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