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Business Partnerships needed to stimulate Sonoma County


Business Partnerships needed
to stimulate Sonoma County

Sonoma County needs to create partnerships that will stimulate beneficial economic, social and environmental impact

By Bruce Burtch

As the stock market and other economic indicators seem to be retreating from their 2014 highs, our pocketbooks are saying the Great Recession is still lingering.  In such volatile times, the hardest hit are usually those who can least afford to get hit hard - the low income and underserved populations of Sonoma County.  It is no surprise that nonprofit organizations, which are tasked with serving the needs of these populations, are faced with the dilemma of decreased individual, governmental and corporate contributions while their services are needed now more than ever.

The answer is not in creating more nonprofits. Indeed, there are approximately 1,925 nonprofits operating today in Sonoma County. Or from a different perspective, there are 18.5 nonprofits for every 10,000 residents in the county.  Such an abundance, possibly overabundance of nonprofits is causing an overlapping of missions and services, donor fatigue, turf wars, and other issues that are detrimental to the primary purpose of nonprofits - serving the social and environmental needs of our communities.  

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that 85% of Sonoma nonprofits have less than 15 employees, with the median number being five employees, according to the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Approximately 41% have revenues under $500,000, and an estimated one quarter of Sonoma nonprofits lack a financial reserve to sustain their organization for more than five months.  One respondent in a recent North Bay study stated that "Anyone with a good idea feels they can start a nonprofit, as a result instead of pushing existing organizations do better, you get more organizations."

There is clear evidence that cross-sector partnerships (partnerships between two or more organizations from the for-profit, nonprofit, government and education sectors) and intra-sector partnerships, such as nonprofits partnering with other nonprofits, can provide significant economic, social and environmental benefits to our community.  No other form of business relationship provides as much benefit, on as many levels, to as many stakeholders as a well-designed and executed cross-sector partnership.  Research undertaken by North Bay resident Bruce Burtch, who has been called “the father of cause marketing,” found nearly 70 distinct benefits that can be received by organizations in a cross-sector partnership, including increased sales and donations, expanded brand awareness, increased employee satisfaction and retention, lowering of administrative expenses, to name just a few.   

The 2012 Sonoma County Community-Based Organizations Report recognized these challenges and stated that “More than 50% of CBOs responded that they would be interested in sharing resources or skills with other organizations. Not only would this decrease costs without decreasing the amount or quality of service, it would also provide CBOs with networking opportunities, access to resources, and increased collaboration.”

By forming partnerships, tremendous efficiencies and progress can be achieved.  An excellent example of a multi-partner, cross-sector partnership is the Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps, which includes in its partnership Social Advocates for Youth, Sonoma County Water Agency, Human Services Department, County of Sonoma, Employment and Training Division, Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board, Sonoma County Office of Education, The Parks Alliance for Sonoma County, and also receives financial support from Sonoma businesses and community donations.

Exemplifying the opportunities created when nonprofit organizations collaborate with other nonprofits is the partnership between Jack London Park Partners and Transcendence Theater Company, which provides musical performances to help raise funds to keep the park open.    

Two approaches now underway can address the challenges and opportunities: first, to better understand how to develop successful, value-driven cross-sector and intra-sector partnerships.  And secondly, to recognize and reward existing exemplary partnerships, while stimulating future partnerships. To this end the Partnership Prize has been established by Bruce Burtch to provide such recognition to both cross-sector partnerships and intra-sector partnerships.  Nominations are now being accepted for eight awards*:  

- The Grand Prize: The most exemplary cross-sector partnership in the North Bay (1)

- Cross-sector partnerships between organizations over 50 employees (three prizes, one each in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties)

- Cross-sector partnerships between organizations under 50 employees  (three prizes, one each in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties)

- Nonprofit with Nonprofit organizations of any size (1)

*These are not monetary awards. Award plaques will be given and there will be extensive promotion of the winners through media and other promotional outlets.  Here is the link to the nomination form

The deadline for nominations was Oct. 29.  

The Partnership Prize awards ceremony will be part of the second annual Glowing Your Business partnership workshop on Friday, November 21st. In 2013 this event attracted over 200 North Bay executives from all four sectors in a hands-on discussion on the importance and development of partnerships. A highlight of this year’s event is a Partnership Panel made up of leading executives from the nonprofit, for-profit, education and government sectors. 

Information on the partnership workshop can be found at