6 Mistakes to Avoid When Partnering With a Small Business

So, you’ve landed that coveted partnership or large sponsorship with a small business. Feels great, doesn’t it? It’s a goal for many nonprofits and social enterprises, and if you’ve made it this far, you’re ahead of the curve.

However, securing the relationship shouldn’t be your goal. You need to work at making it successful…for both of you. By doing so, you’ll ensure a long-lasting relationship, and it will give you the confidence and reputation needed to repeat the process.

A successful partnership with a small business can lead to more money, more volunteers, a larger network, and much more. Plus, it gives you other people who will champion your cause.

Last week, we talked about the mistakes that small businesses should avoid when partnering with nonprofits. Today, we’ll chat about the mistakes you should avoid on your side of the relationship. Because not only should you play your role in making the partnership a success, but ultimately, it’s the only thing you can control.

6 Mistakes Nonprofits Should Avoid When Partnering With a Small Business

Mistake #1: Don’t Explain the Benefits to the Small Business

Even the most generous of sponsors and partners have to ask themselves at some point, “What’s in it for me?” This isn’t rude or crass. It’s natural when thinking about entering into this kind of relationship. After all, they have a business to run.

Philanthropy often comes out of excess resources, whether that’s time, money, or something else. Businesses need revenue to keep their doors open and their lights on. So, while they often want to give out of the kindness of their hearts, they also realize that giving back is good for business.

So, be proactive and answer their question. Don’t let it be a distraction or guesswork on their part. This may only become a nagging feeling that grows as time passes.

Try to include both altruistic and practical answers. Altruistic options may be things like goodwill or higher employee engagement. Practical ideas could include press opportunities, showing off their logo on your website, or even single points of contact for streamlined communication. Think about what you can do to make the partnership intentional and beneficial.

Mistake #2: Don’t State Exactly What Your Nonprofit Needs

I get it. Having this kind of sponsorship or partnership within your grasp is incredibly tempting. And it’s easy to just accept whatever the business wants to offer you, even if you don’t need it.

However, you have to think of your organization first. If someone offers to create a new website for your nonprofit, for example, but you had a redesign done a year ago, don’t accept it just because it’s handed to you on a silver platter.

If a small business approaches you to partner, leave no room for ambiguity. Ask for exactly what you need. At times, there may be a compromise or alternative you hadn’t thought of, which is another great solution. But if they are only willing to give something you don’t need, this won’t serve you well in the end. And, honestly, other than getting your organization’s name on their resume, it won’t serve them well either.

The goal is to create a partnership or sponsorship that benefits you both, and one you’ll want to continue into the future.

Mistake #3: Don’t Follow-Through on Your Commitment

This advice requires me to dish out a little tough love. Nonprofits are especially understaffed and under-resourced. But, if you make a promise—keep it.

There may be all kinds of fancy benefits you list on a sponsorship or partnership package or presentation. I know you want to do everything you can to sweeten the deal.

But for the sake of your organization and the company you’re talking to, don’t include anything you don’t think you can follow through on. Broken promises can cost you much more than a relationship.

Even if you feel like you don’t have a lot to offer, keep it simple. Follow-through. And over deliver.

Be an nonprofit or social enterprise that keeps their word.

Mistake #4: Keep the Partnership a Secret

This mistake builds on a little of what we’ve already talked about, but in general, one of the best things you can do for your corporate partners is talk about them. It’s a fine line for them to do it themselves. They want to do good—and shout it from the rooftops—but they also don’t want to come across as sleazy or exploitive. So, this is something you can help them with.

Use your email campaigns, social media, and events to talk about what an awesome partner they are, and all they’ve done for you. This is also an easy way to get them to stick around.

Side benefit: It may also encourage other small businesses to work with you as well. It’s always encouraging and comforting to see a proven path to success.

Mistake #5: Ignore Those Bad Vibes

I’m not much of a “woo woo” person, but I do believe in intuition. And as I mentioned in last week’s post, I had to let go of a client that I knew better to work with in the first place. From the initial conversation, I knew this organization wasn’t going to be a good fit, even though they seemed like an ideal client on paper.

But I made excuses, thought it would get better, and jumped in anyway. And things went bad quickly. It was two very long months of working together before I decided to let them go. Meaning, it definitely wasn’t worth the money!

So, learn from my mistake. Don’t ignore those bad vibes! If things feel off in those initial conversations, don’t establish the partnership. It will likely be more trouble than it’s worth.

Even if your nonprofit or social enterprise is desperate, this company will almost certainly not be your answer. After all, if they can’t deliver on their promises, end up taking more time than you have to give, or deplete your man power or energy, you could end up worse off than you started. It would’ve been better to stay away and find a better corporate partner to begin with.

Finding the right company will be worth waiting for!

Mistake #6: Start With a Large, Make-It-Or-Break-It Project

It’s always best to start small, and with several conversations. Don’t rush into a partnership. Hopefully, there will be plenty of potential for a long-term relationship, but it doesn’t have to start that way.

Test the waters to see if it’s a good fit for both of. Make sure you can each hold up your end of the bargain, and build on that success.

Beginning with a big project, especially one where there’s a lot riding on it, will add unneeded stress and pressure. While it may work out for the better, I just don’t recommend it.

Instead, start with a small win. That will create a strong foundation.


PSST: We’ve also built a sponsor presentation template if you need help getting started!

It’s customizable and easy-to-use, so all you have to do fill in your info and schedule the meeting!



A successful partnership between your nonprofit or social enterprise and a small business can lead to more money, more  volunteers , a larger network, and much more. Plus, it gives you other people who will champion your cause.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify, supporting cause-focused organizations

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.