THE BLOG
09/09/2014 06:02 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

Want to Change the World? Get Ready to Get Your Hands Dirty Together

There is a lot of unmet need in the world. Thanks to social media and the other technology advances we've witnessed over the past couple of decades, these needs are more apparent and feel closer to our own back yard than they ever did before.

To address it, there has been an explosion of nonprofit organizations over the last decade here in the U.S. with over 1.5 million currently in existence. Another more recent approach has come from the for-profit world, with social enterprises like TOMS Shoes and 31 Bits launching to address social problems from poverty to education to clean water. While profits are an inherent part of the success equation, positive "social impact" or "social good" are also a key measure for these companies.

When I started my business, making money was a key priority ... but it wasn't the only one. Sure, we all need to make a living and make sure our investors and various stakeholders are happy. But social entrepreneurs start companies because they want to solve a societal problem. Simply writing a check to an organization isn't good enough for us.

Social entrepreneurs begin with an unwavering commitment to making a serious impact on the world. Driving my company's effort is the fact that only seven percent of all charitable funding goes to the needs of women and girls, leaving an incredible funding gap for our primary consumers, young women ages 15-21. But we cannot achieve our social good goal of funding their dreams through scholarship alone. Partnerships are the cornerstone of our strategy.

While my startup company is approaching it with a for-profit model (e.g., selling products whose sales support a scholarship program for young women), our launch partner, the Women's Foundation of Greater Kansas City, part of a nationwide network of women's funds and foundations working to advance the cause of women and girls, is approaching it with a nonprofit model (e.g., providing grants to organizations and individuals in need). Indeed it's not an either-or situation when it comes to filling that funding gap. Not one model nor organization can close the gap alone. But as a team, however, we achieve more to empower young women than either of our organizations could have done alone. By leveraging each other's core competencies, our organizations can find that sweet spot for success.

And, guess what? We're not the only for-profit/nonprofit partners working to achieve greater social good together. Indeed, from 2011 to 2013, business sponsorship spending for nonprofit causes increased by six percent to over $1.78 billion in 2013. But in order for a partnership to truly have a lasting impact, it has to be more than just simply slapping a label on a product. If you're not thinking, "How can I make this partnership do the most amount of good and impact the most amount of people?" you're not channeling that forward-thinking and ambitious nature that powers your business every day.

It was with this in mind that I personally committed to raising the bar on partnerships between nonprofit organizations and for-profit startups. Through our partnership with the Women's Foundation, we're meaningfully impacting our community, while also establishing a model that allows each entity to grow.

The best part? This approach is replicable and scalable. Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Women's Foundation of Greater Kansas City agrees: "Establishing strategic partnerships between like-minded organizations is smart business. By working together, we can make a significant impact and achieve greater results."

Whether you work for a nonprofit organization or a for-profit business, you, too, can identify the right partner and build a mutually beneficial relationship, beginning with these four steps:

  • Tap into networks. For startups, connections can make or break you. In fact, one-third of all startups close in the first two years, largely due to a lack of community awareness and support. When building the UChic brand, I connected with the Women's Foundation of Greater Kansas City a year before launching to introduce our company and plans and see where there may be opportunity to partner. Our mission is not only perfectly aligned with their mission, but I also realized they provided a gateway to a core constituency that could give UChic an initial lift. Through presentations to the organization and networking with key members, I developed strong relationships with its leaders. Suddenly, my network had expanded to include an influential group of women who understood and believed in the mission of UChic. These forward-thinking women also saw the opportunity to form a partnership that differs from the traditional giving model.
  • Align your goals. When I heard that only seven percent of all giving dollars go to women and girls' causes, I knew I had the opportunity and responsibility to change that trend. Both my company and the Women's Foundation share the mission to help young women succeed - UChic through the 1,000 Dreams scholarship program, which provides micro-grants or scholarships to help girls access experiences that shape dreams, careers and lives; and the Women's Foundation through educational, networking and philanthropic opportunities. Ask yourself: what's the change you want to see in the world? Then, find a like-minded organization that shares your mission, but lacks the means to realize it. There's always a funding gap, and with the right research and networking, you can find it and fill it.
  • Support each other. This partnership has never been one-sided. Through their Girls Grant Project, the Women's Foundation connects us with exemplary young women perfect for our 1,000 Dreams scholarship program. By aligning goals, we're able to share legwork and cut costs, ultimately helping us both.

    Take the time to get to know your partner, why they exist, and the people behind the curtain who make it happen. Build a model that benefits both organizations to maximize the impact it has on the community. "The partnership between UChic and the Women's Foundation is a great example of a partnership that benefits both organizations and strategically furthers our missions," says Doyle.

  • Keep growing. Staying stagnant is not in your business plan, so don't tolerate the status quo with your partnership. Once you create something that works, look to expand outward through the organization's larger network - a process we are currently navigating. Now that our partnership with the Women's Foundation has proved beneficial to young women in our local community, we plan to replicate this model with women's foundations across the country to positively impact young ladies everywhere.

The process may not be easy. You will have critics who question your motives and pick apart every detail of your partnership. My best advice? Integrate your nonprofit relationship into your business culture. Make it an inextricable part of your company's DNA. And then, share your efforts, learnings and, yes, failures with your followers. By being transparent and honest about your goals, your backers and team members will come to understand and appreciate your efforts even more. They may even be able to help you find a better way. When you and your team truly believe that the work you're doing is making an undeniable difference, it will be easy to stay the course.

Now, go out and do something great - together.