Business Nonprofit Partnership Strategies to Beat COVID-19

By | November 11, 2021

Businesses need new customers, nonprofits need new revenue…now more than ever.

Soldiering through a challenging time of unprecedented volatility, nonprofits across the country have found their traditional revenue sources decimated…while most businesses have experienced massive layoffs and furloughs.

Now, more than ever, businesses need to think more like nonprofits and nonprofits need to think more like businesses.

As a social entrepreneur and consultant who has founded and scaled successful business and nonprofit ventures, I’ve discovered exponential value when business nonprofit partnerships are architected by an experienced navigator and guide with the greater good in mind.

Here’s three keys:

1. Authenticity and Social Impact Strategies

Millennials and Gen Zers now represent 40% of the market. By 2030, Gen Z will represent $33 trillion in purchasing power and surpass millennials by 2031. Both groups closely identify and gravitate towards brands that are authentic and pursue meaningful social impact strategies.

At the same time, nonprofits live and breathe the art of impact daily…working on the frontlines of issues and needs that resonate within their communities.

Combined together, there is power in pairs.

Business Nonprofit Partnerships

2. Art of Impact

Crowd shot of the Forecastle Festival main stage

There is an art to impact, and when two organizations align and agree to share their resources and networks, the results can be catalytic.

Too often, corporate partnerships teamed with nonprofits are transactional and one-dimensional, but the truth is, successful corporate charity partnerships have little to do with charity or check writing – and everything to do with crafting a new business nonprofit brand.

When the for-profit and nonprofit collide, the result is a whole new brand! They meet each other in the middle to:

  1. Solve a common problem
  2. Discover a common currency
  3. Recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses
  4. Fill in each other’s knowledge and network gaps
  5. Capitalize on the exponential impact both parties make by collaborating vs. siloing or delegating to a marketing agency.

This is the art of impact.

3. Smile Like You Mean It

JK McKnight announcing business nonprofit partnerships with Whole Foods, Nature Conservancy and Heine Brothers

Business Nonprofit partnerships only work when both parties are willing to let go and forge a new identity together – one mission, one team, one goal. Easy to say, hard to do. I’ve seen many corporate partnerships with nonprofits crash and burn when they lead with the wrong intentions. As a consultant, I try to identify and architect the right partnership.

Juan Lopez, friend and GM at Red Bull, once told me “You can’t fake authenticity”. He’s right, and those who do lose.

If you want customers to wear your brand like a badge, smile like you mean it.

As a social entrepreneur who founded and scaled a successful business and nonprofit, I was constantly unearthing business nonprofit connectivity that all too often went overlooked or missing in conference rooms, video chats, and the day-to-day sales and strategic partnership grind.

Now as a consultant, I work to harness that unseen connectivity to design, build and develop business nonprofit partnerships for my clients, leveraging a model and architecture. I learned from my festival years working with 350+ lifestyle brands seeking a meaningful integration into my homegrown Forecastle Festival. These impactful strategic partnerships helped propel it from 0 to 75,000 patrons, ultimately being acquired by AC Entertainment and Live Nation.

Three examples of many successful business nonprofit strategies:

Heine Brothers and Forecastle Foundation partner with Whole Foods to forge corporate partnerships with nonprofits

Whole Foods & Heine Brothers Coffee

Mission: Create a new coffee blend that attracts new customers to Whole Foods and Heine Brothers Coffee, while raising funds to support indigenous Central American communities and protecting critical biodiversity through The Forecastle Foundation.

Strategy: Pair national retailer Whole Foods with local business Heine Brothers on a unique, community-driven, give back blend, titled Kentucky Dream. Leverage Heine Brothers extensive grower relationships, while partnering with Whole Foods to market and amplify corporate partnerships with nonprofits. Launch a targeted, PR & MKTG campaign across retail and non-profit channels, to share the story and reach unreachable customers in a highly competitive landscape: making corporate partnerships with nonprofits matter.

Results: Whole Foods attracts a new audience and drives strong sales by attracting new consumers interested in the business nonprofit partnership and give-back mission. For Heine Brothers Coffee, they receive a proprietary product that reinforces the company’s longstanding commitment to the communities in which it operates, while keeping its coffee line fresh and loyal customers interested.

Four Roses and Forecastle Foundation craft a business nonprofit corporate partnership

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Mission: Craft the next generation of Kentucky Bourbon aficionados, while providing a new revenue vertical for The Forecastle Foundation. New customers for Kentucky bourbon, new revenue for Forecastle Foundation.

Strategy: Design a “turn-of-the-century rickhouse meets prohibition-era speakeasy” experiential activation inside the Forecastle Festival, called “The Bourbon Lodge”and create a program that pairs festival bands with bourbon brands. Invite bands to sample single-barrel selections from their favorite brands. Pair Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Old Forester, Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey with artists Alabama Shakes, Band of Horses, Spoon, and many more.

Results: Pair power. For the brands, national press and alignments with popular, contemporary artists that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to license. For the non-profit, thousands raised to support its local and global conservation programs and initiatives. For the festival, the experiential activation we titled The Bourbon Lodge grows from a 900 to 15,000 square foot, indoor / outdoor experience, while Forecastle is hailed as “Bourbon’s Most Important Festival” by Wall Street Journal best-selling author Fred Minnick.

Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight at Sierra Nevada Brewery, a corporate partnership that yielded the Chantey IPA

Sierra Nevada

Mission: Inspired by the Sierra Nevada mountain range, craft a new product that protects the world’s most breathtaking environments.

Strategy: Forge a strategic partnership with The Forecastle Foundation, travel to Sierra Nevada’s in Chico CA, to design a new beer with Steve Grossman (brother of founder Ken Grossman) and donate proceeds to protecting critical biodiversity hotspots. Over three days, a new expression emerges – The Close Call Kolsch – designed to appeal to Forecastle Festival’s target audience. The product is launched before the festival with a multi-tiered, on-premise PR, marketing and retail strategy. It is showcased at multiple locations throughout the festival, with its unique story told at each location.

Results: Millions of media impressions, thousands of new customer engagements, and product line revenue for Sierra Nevada. For the Forecastle Foundation, new revenue vertical established to protect critical wildlife habitats from Argentina to Indonesia, Belize to Kentucky.


These successful corporate charity partnerships have applications that extend far beyond the festival gates to businesses and nonprofits in all categories and segments. In order to capture young millennials and Gen Z, businesses will need to adapt their strategies that take a step past traditional CSR (corporate social responsibility) practices and focus on deep, meaningful business nonprofit partnerships that yield visible results.

For nonprofits, the need to diversify revenue streams is now an economic reality. The antidote is to cast your net wider and further, towards a stream that provides not just monetary value, but increased marketing exposure, PR opportunities, co-branded merchandise, new product lines and more.

At Art of Impact, we are here to help.

We help your team bridge the business nonprofit divide, playing the role of matchmaker – identifying unseen synergies and opportunities in order to architect and design a strategic partnership blueprint that works for both parties, generates meaningful connections, new revenue verticals, and lifelong brand advocates. In a time of economic uncertainty and daily volatility, one piece of certainty is that social impact strategies will drive our future economy, and business nonprofit partnerships will lead the way.

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