Are We Listening Only to Ourselves?

I enjoy reading The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg and other business publications. Their “take” on philanthropy provides invaluable insights into the thoughts and motivations of donors, many of whom made their fortunes in business.

We in the nonprofit sector sometimes become too insular. We seek information to guide us in our work from insiders working within the field. And while this is surely helpful, by following broad-based business coverage on a regular basis, one gains great insight from the, “other side of the table.”

In fact, as time moves forward we find corporations without corporate social responsibility programs are less attractive to potential clients. Most companies today believe CSR programs make for happier, better quality employees and greater long term retention.

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.”

I find that forthright statement so inspiring!

Business publications today often interview corporate leaders about their philanthropy. This is essential information for those of us constantly searching for new “social good” partners and funders. For instance, I enjoyed an article by Andrew Cave for Forbes, “Giving To Your Church Doesn’t Count,” (2014), in which Jon Huntsman Sr. discussed his charitable giving.

“I can’t tell you why I give,” he says. “People have asked me that question for the last 20-30 years and I have never come up with a satisfactory answer, other than the fact that some people think you’re crazy. I love to see the twinkle in peoples’ eyes. It’s a high, a real feeling of excitement and exhilaration to be able to help people. It’s hard to explain why. It’s not something other members of my family have done; it’s not something that’s inherited. It’s just something that for me is very important.”

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 people like me understand how to focus our grant proposals and related solicitations requesting financial support.

One of my favorite information resources is Fortune. Not only the annual Fortune 500 listing, but additional lists like, “The 10 Companies With The Best CSR Reputations in 2017” help nonprofits hone-in on those companies with the greatest capabilities to fund nonprofit endeavors, and those with the best reputations.

We as a sector can improve our partnership-building and fundraising performance on many levels if we stand in the shoes of philanthropists, many of whom earned their fortunes through business. Reading the business press – not only the advice generously provided by our peers in the nonprofit sector – will help make for smarter proposals and relationships.

Resources for Nonprofits Seeking Top Notch Corporate Partners

  • If you are concerned about diversity in the workplace and related issues, you might bookmark the website of DiversityInc. There you will learn about companies that are diversity champions, and those still facing challenges.
  • Fortune, Change the World list is inspiring! Many social good partners may be found there. You might also enjoy, “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
  • TriplePundit, “A Year in CSR: The Top 10 Trends of 2017,” in which it is noted, “Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans are hopeful business will take the lead to drive critical social and environmental change. In the past year, we’ve seen companies take this challenge and run – with compelling campaigns standing up for social justice issues, companies tackling disaster relief in new and effective ways and organizations sparking conversations on sometimes uncomfortable topics.”
  • During a recent AFP presentation, I mentioned the need for fundraisers to follow the stock market. During the economic “meltdown” ca. 2010, we learned some companies are more negatively impacted than others. In fact, some companies did quite well, and it would have made sense for nonprofits to approach them for support, but many of those companies can be, “off the radar.” Careful monitoring of the stock market will help you find these kinds of insights, and to become a more successful fundraiser.

For those with lingering concerns about Wall Street, you might enjoy watching Devin Thorpe’s interview, “John Taft: Wall Street Can Be a Force For Good” on YouTube (March 31, 2015).

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