Transformational Partnerships: Challenges and Best Practice From the NPO Perspective

Zaida Bericat Villanueva & Sabrina Eisele

Student thesis: Master thesis


Private sector engagement towards tackling society's most pressing and complex issues is increasing. A driving
force behind this trend is a rise in direct partnerships between businesses and the institutions traditionally
considered the principal catalysts for social change: non profit organizations. While the relationship between
these institutions has been characterized as one of conflict rather than collaboration, recent experience suggests
that the non profit organization business partnership phenomenon shows great promise.
There is a growing academic literature on non profit organization business partnerships to reflect their
increasing prevalence. Analyzing this literature, we identify a gap in the understanding of this phenomenon: few
academic publications acknowledge the organizational differences between non profit organizations and their
business partners from the perspective of the non profit organization. Effective partnerships are precisely that -
partnerships - and by emphasizing the perspective of the business at the expense of the partnerships’ other half,
the literature has overlooked some of the challenges to this model that originate within the nonprofit.
We attempt to fill this gap in the literature by exploring the challenges the nonprofit organization encounters in
transformational partnerships and the best practice approaches they employ to prevent, mitigate and overcome
them. To this aim, we carry out a multiple case study applying qualitative research methods. Principally, this
involves interviews with representatives from several of the world's largest non profit organizations in order to
document their perspectives towards partnering with business. The richness of this data, collected from
nonprofits pursuing objectives in four distinct fields, allows us to apply a Thematic Analysis to capture a broad
spectrum of both challenges faced and practical approaches applied in the pursuit of transformational change
through partnerships. Challenges range from an overly simplistic understanding of the partner’s endeavors to
ineffective dialogue between both parties. Identified best practice approaches include establishing a clear and
detailed partnership contract along with direct and frequent communication.
Recognizing the very practical nature of the partnership phenomenon, we further simplify these academic
research findings and develop ten recommendations for practitioners’ use. Applying these recommendations can
help practitioners establish transformational partnerships that meet their social impact goals. Thus, our research
not only expands the academic literature on transformational partnerships; our contributions are also intended
to positively impact practice and, thereby, society at large

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages117