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Partnerships viewed as crucial to charities

With more Massachusetts residents in need of social service programs, many nonprofits that provide such services say one of their biggest challenges is building stronger relationships with the corporate donors that fund them, a recent survey by the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network and Natixis Global Asset Management shows.

The survey, of 103 Massachusetts nonprofits, highlighted the difficulties such organizations faced when the economic downturn put more people in need of help but led corporations to cut back on giving as their businesses suffered. That forced many aid agencies to compete against each other for a smaller pool of money.

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“Breaking the ice is hard in any new relationship, and it’s particularly challenging for human service and other nonprofits pursuing corporate partners in an increasingly competitive landscape,” said John Hailer, president of Natixis Global Asset Management in the Americas and Asia.

More than half of the nonprofits surveyed said they felt they were “least effective” at making “initial contact” with potential business partners.

More than a third said their funding has dropped somewhat.

These problems can be addressed, Hailer said in an interview, if nonprofits figure out how to get “better about approaching businesses.” Corporations, he added, also need to rethink the way they support charities so that they are providing manpower as well as funding.

“Treat it like a partnership,” Hailer said. “Getting people connected and involved not only makes for a better charity and better giving, it makes a better company.”

The survey identified the state’s energy and biotechnology sectors as among the weakest sources of money for nonprofits, while construction and real estate businesses and health care providers were more reliable.

The strongest support came from financial services companies.

Earlier this year, Liberty Mutual said it would increase its charitable donations in Massachusetts in 2012 by 20 percent, to $17 million.

Bank of America, John Hancock Financial­ Services, and State Street Corp., said their philanthropic giving this year should be about the same as in 2011.

Rick Jakious, chief executive of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, said social service agencies should try to tap corporations for support — in large part because many businesses are seeking volunteer opportunities for their employees that lead to tangible results in Bay State communities.

“In this day and age, companies are looking for more than cutting a check. They’re looking for more than checkbook philanthropy,” Jakious said.

“And human services organizations [can] bring that impact and engagement to the ­table.”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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