Are We Listening Only to Ourselves?

Sometimes the nonprofit sector is too insular. We seek information to guide us in our work from insiders working within the field, day in and day out. And while this is surely helpful, by following broad-based business coverage on a regular basis, one gains very helpful insight from the, “other side of the table.” As a fundraiser, I find this essential.

Some nonprofits balk at what I suggest, feeling corporations are self-serving. But as time moves forward, we find corporations understand CSR – or community social responsibility programs – make for happier, higher quality employees, greater long term retention of those employees, and greater sales and loyal clients. In fact, the impression of corporations is changing today. By way of background, Cone Communications notes 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.”

Are We Listening

It is encouraging that corporations are taking up many of society’s challenges in order to solve them. You might enjoy reading Fortune’s “Change the World List” (2018):

“The Change the World list recognizes companies that have had a positive social impact through activities that are part of their core business strategy. We prioritize companies with annual revenues of $1 billion or more. The initial solicitation and assessment of nominees is conducted in partnership with FSG, a nonprofit social-impact consulting firm; the Shared Value Initiative, a global platform for organizations seeking business solutions to social challenges; and Professor Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School.”

If your nonprofit is “squeamish” about corporate partnerships, do your research and see if you can find a like-minded partner or two on this helpful list, and start developing relationships with them.

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 today often interview corporate leaders about their philanthropy. This is very helpful 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.

Vicki Valet wrote for Forbes, “The World’s Most Reputable Companies For Corporate Responsibility 2018” (October 18, 2018). A link to the Forbes listing is provided. “To determine the CR RepTrak, the institute surveyed more than 230,000 individuals in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States during the period from January to February 2018. The 140 companies considered were those that are familiar to at least 30% of the general population of the countries surveyed.”

The nonprofit sector can improve its partnership-building and fundraising performance on many levels if its employees stand in the shoes of philanthropists, many of whom earned their fortunes through business (by that I mean many foundations are directly tied to successful businesses, and were funded by business profits). By reading the business press regularly – not only the advice generously provided by our peers in the nonprofit sector – we will help forge smarter relationships and grant proposals. And happily, it seems the business press is stepping forward to monitor the progress of corporations in terms of their corporate social responsibility efforts, rewarding the best ones with more “press” (thank you)!

Additional Resources

  • 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.
  • Anna Johannsen for Entrepreneur, “Corporate Social Responsibility Can Actually Be a Competitive Advantage, So Where’s Your CSR Program?” (April 11, 2018).
  • You might also enjoy Fortune’s, “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
  • During several of my prior AFP presentations, I mention 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. It can also help you prepare for economic downturns. See my blog post, “During Good Times, Don’t Forget to Prepare for Rainy Days.”
  • “Economy and Philanthropy” is an article I wrote not long after launching Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. It discusses the economic downturn of a few years ago, how the economy affects philanthropy, and notes changing perceptions of capitalism. In 2019, my feeling is that capitalism can and should change, with a stronger acceptance of corporate social responsibility. I am not a socialist; I do not believe that is a sustainable model for America. But I do think we need to come to the middle in our discussions about capitalism today, and transform it for the better. We need to bring the left and the right sides of the argument to some kind of middle ground!

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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