Are We Listening Only to Ourselves?

As time moves forward, I have been heartened to see the mainstream business media covering more social good and nonprofit news. I began this article in 2014, and I continue to refresh it as new information becomes available. Since then, CSR: Corporate Social Responsibility efforts have increased as more employees and consumers demand companies take on meaningful roles in solving societal challenges. As Skye Schooley notes in Business News Daily (April 22, 2019):

“In today’s socially conscious environment, employees and customers place a premium on working for and spending their money with businesses that prioritize corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is an evolving business practice that incorporates sustainable development into a company’s business model. It has a positive impact on social, economic and environmental factors. Katie Schmidt, the founder and lead designer of Passion Lilie, said CSR can positively impact your business by improving your company image, building your brand and motivating you as a business owner.”

Having said this, the nonprofit sector can be insular and rely too heavily on information gleaned from insiders working within the sector. And while these resources are helpful, by following broad-based business coverage on a regular basis, one gains even greater insight from the, “other side of the table.” As a fundraiser, I find the latter essential.

Some nonprofits with which I have worked believe corporations are self-serving and that capitalism is opposed to their values. But as time moves forward, we find corporations understand CSR makes for happier, higher quality employees, greater long term retention of those employees, and greater sales and loyal clients.

Cone Communications noted in its landmark 2017 report, “2017 will be remembered as the year that corporate social responsibility (CSR) was redefined. Although CSR will always be grounded in business operations – from water conservation to supply chain transparency – recently, the stakes have gotten a lot higher. Companies must now share not only what they stand for, but what they stand up for.”

It is encouraging that corporations are tackling many of society’s challenges in order to solve them. You might enjoy reading Fortune’s “Change the World List.” More companies than ever are using the creative tools of business to help the planet and tackle society’s unmet needs.

Recently, Fortune announced a game changing initiative, “Our Commitment.”

“America’s economic model, which is based on freedom, liberty and other enduring principles of our democracy, has raised standards of living for generations, while promoting competition, consumer choice and innovation. America’s businesses have been a critical engine to its success.

Yet we know that many Americans are struggling. Too often hard work is not rewarded, and not enough is being done for workers to adjust to the rapid pace of change in the economy. If companies fail to recognize that the success of our system is dependent on inclusive long-term growth, many will raise legitimate questions about the role of large employers in our society.

With these concerns in mind, Business Roundtable is modernizing its principles on the role of a corporation.”

If your nonprofit is “squeamish” about capitalism and corporate America, read the business press, and use those resources to identify corporate partnerships that make sense for your nonprofit and its mission.

Forbes Contributor Devin Thorpe interviewed Garratt Hasenstab, Director of Sustainability at the Verdigris Group, a real estate development and consulting firm just a few years ago. Garratt noted:

“Our CSR policy is at the core of our daily operations and guides our future progress. We benefit from these efforts in a number of ways. Our clients want to work with us because we are focused on a healthier and more productive world. Our development clients can rely on us to develop their projects to the highest standards of energy efficiency and occupant health, while creating an architecturally resonant project that reflects our mission and vision. Of course we save money by operating more efficiently which is a direct benefit of our CSR efforts, however the true value we receive from our ongoing initiatives is that of social good will – we believe that setting a good example is the greatest benefit in that we inspire other organizations, companies and individuals to ‘up their game’ when it comes to social and environmental responsibility, which in turn encourages further inspiration in the community leading to a more enlightened perspective on how to run ones business or lead one’s life.”

Business publications also occasionally interview corporate leaders about their philanthropy. This is very helpful for those of us constantly searching for new “social good” partners and funders. Julie Bort quotes Bill Gates for Business Insider, “Bill Gates Thinks Your Donations To Charity Are A Bigger Deal Than His” (2014):

“My charitable giving is not impressive. What’s impressive is people who give to charities who have to sacrifice something to give it to him. In my family, we don’t even hesitate to buy yet another airplane. But there are people who have to choose, do I go out to dinner? Or do I give this $20 to my church? That’s a very different decision than I make. Those are the people that impress me.”

Michael Bloomberg was quoted by Paul Sullivan in The New York Times in 2016,

“I’m a practical person,” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview at Bloomberg Philanthropies ahead of the release of its annual report. “If we’ve got a problem, let’s do something. I want to find one small thing.”

Apple’s Tim Cook says he will donate his fortune to charity. In the Fortune article, “Apple’s Tim Cook leads different,” (2015) the author notes, “Cook has used the pulpit provided him by Apple’s worldwide platform to opine on subjects as diverse as human rights, access to education, female representation on Wall Street, immigration reform, and privacy rights. He even ventured into the heart of the Deep South, to the capital of his home state of Alabama, to lament the sorry state of racial equality there.”

These discussions provide insight into how CEOs and philanthropists think and how they view the world. That information helps nonprofit organizations understand how to focus grant proposals and solicitations requesting financial support and partnership opportunities.

Vicki Valet wrote for Forbes, “The World’s Most Reputable Companies For Corporate Responsibility 2019” (March 7, 2019). Notably, “The global business community saw a significant reputation regression last year, with crises ranging from data breach scandals to sexual harassment allegations shattering much of the trust in corporations that had been restored since the end of the Great Recession. While companies have yet to fully regain the confidence of the general public, the outlook does seem slightly rosier.”

Another resource nonprofits should watch is CECP: Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose. Bill McNabb, SII Advisory Board Co-Chair and Former Chairman, Vanguard noted:

“For too long, companies have sacrificed long-term value creation to generate short-term results, which erodes the sustainability strategic investors seek. It’s through the groundbreaking efforts of the Strategic Investor Initiative that companies and investors can change how businesses plan and act. CECP, with the 200 global CEOs in their coalition, is the right organization to lead this transformation.”

The nonprofit sector can improve its partnership-building and fundraising performance on many levels by reading the business press regularly, not only the advice provided by our peers. Of course, everyone’s input is important! But nonprofits should delve more deeply into the business press, become more aware of CSR, encourage CSR efforts and forge meaningful partnerships with companies setting high standards of performance with social good in mind.

Additional Resources

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