Building Partnerships with Communities: Green Shield Canada shares best practices for a collaborative approach

by Hannah Munshi |

If you’re a community foundation, chances are you’ve heard of Green Shield Canada (GSC). In 2018, in honour of their 60th anniversary, Canada’s fourth-largest health and dental benefits provider donated $6 million to six different communities (Halifax, Hamilton, Windsor Essex, Calgary, Vancouver/Victoria, and Sault Ste. Marie) in their “Six 4 Six” initiative for priority projects. In April 2020 in response to COVID-19, GSC further donated $500,000 to community foundation relief funds across the country. And in December 2020, GSC made a further investment of $4 million to six additional community foundations (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Quebec, and Haida Gwaii). With this investment, GSC now works with 12 community foundations across the country. 

What you may not know is that GSC was founded with a social intention. Starting in 1957 by a pharmacist in Windsor to find a solution for people unable to pay for their prescriptions, the organization remains a registered non profit and social enterprise. According to CEO Zahid Salman, “The story of how our business was created to fill a social need is still very much front of mind. It’s the biggest link between our past, present and future” (as reported in the Financial Post, 2020). 

It is this strong focus on social impact and a desire for greater impact that led GSC to a partnership with community foundations. In 2020, it created a “Toolkit for Corporate and Community Foundation Partnerships” to share its knowledge with other community foundations on how to work in partnership with business. Any community foundation interested in forming partnerships with businesses can benefit from the simple five steps outlined in the toolkit. 

1. Decide what “corporate partnership” means for you 

  • Consider how a partnership might advance your foundation’s strategy, and how it could benefit your community

2. Initiate corporate relationships

  • Consider if there are local businesses with deep community roots, and/or if there are businesses that have a direct connection to priority issues in your community
  • Think where you may have an existing relationship – perhaps someone on your board works with an existing business

3. Build your base

  • Confirm expectations and get to know each other. This is an essential step often skipped.
  • Agree on definitions around values, expected outcomes and the impact you want to create together
  • Create a governance structure, even a light one, to ensure shared expectations around decision-making

4. Work together

  • Articulate your shared vision 
  • Understand how you will evaluate the partnership, and on a regular basis evaluate its success for all partners involved.

5. Take it to the next level

  • When two entities such as a community foundation and a corporation come together with a shared vision, passion and commitment, the possibilities are numerous and exciting. Depending on the partnership, this could involve increased amplification, sharing and acting on new opportunities, and deepening work together.

GSC feels that alongside community foundations, it is building a new and powerful model of how businesses can work with community foundations to make significant, long-term positive impact in communities. By sharing the toolkit, it hopes that all community foundations can build their own valuable partnerships with businesses coast to coast to coast.