Like many community-minded entrepreneurial businesses, Peppercomm has struck relationships with countless nonprofits. They have ranged from alleged "win-win" partnerships with military and medical research groups to initiatives aimed at feeding children and rebuilding homes for the elderly.

They all eventually failed for the following reasons:

  1. Neither party established pre-program success metrics.
  2. Peppercomm found itself one of hundreds, if not thousands, of corporate benefactors helping the better-known nonprofits (so we were treated as the proverbial small fish in the nonprofit's big pond).
  3. We never sat back, examined our strategic business goals, and researched a small but promising nonprofit that wanted exactly what we did.

To quote Bruce Springsteen, we were "dancing in the dark."

That's changed. We now support the right nonprofit, allocate the proper resources to ensure success for both parties, and are able to advance our business's goals as a result.

To help you select the right nonprofit for your small business, I went to two sources: our nonprofit partner AND a corporation that has enjoyed great success partnering with nonprofits that empower small business (a key market of theirs).

So here are four tips to help your budding relationship bloom:

The first two are from our nonprofit partner, Youth About Business. Sam Kirk, YAB's founder, says nonprofits should:

  1. Find an organization that fits your mission, instead of trying to adjust your mission to meet the corporate sponsor's needs. YAB helps high school students interested in business and finance (particularly from an entrepreneurial standpoint) find the right mentors. Peppercomm is dedicated to continually supporting the entrepreneurial community, so it's a perfect match for both parties.
  2. Find corporate partners who will enable the nonprofit members to use their skill sets in a voluntary, but career-specific, context. YAB members enjoy that opportunity thanks to working directly with Peppercomm executives, as well as with other YAB sponsors such as EY, Nissan, The Moody's Foundation, and McGraw Hill Financial.

And from the corporate side, Diane Cantello, vice president of corporate responsibility at The Hartford (a Peppercomm client) provides tips three and four:

  1. The nonprofit's philosophy must align with your organization's values and goals. The Hartford has been a long-time supporter of small business (and has a major business unit aimed at supporting small-business needs).

The Hartford's national philanthropic program, Communities with HART, provides access to funding and knowledge for under-served small businesses through partnerships with Accion U.S. Network, Lift Fund, Junior Achievement USA, and AARP Foundation. Think about your business goals and select the nonprofit that will help you make them come true.

  1. Make sure the nonprofit you choose has staying power. The Hartford's decade-long relationship with Junior Achievement is a prime example. Both parties have benefited greatly over the years thanks to JA's continued focus on educating future generations about entrepreneurship, a topic that is important to The Hartford.

In other words, what good is partnering with a nonprofit that may go belly-up in a year or two?

So, there's your road map for navigating the sometimes murky, but highly rewarding, nonprofit relationship world.

Follow these tips and you'll enjoy a marriage made in heaven. Choose the wrong partner and you'll end up in Inc.com's version of divorce court.