Apr 30 2014, 9:16pm CDT | by Forbes
As veteran nonprofit managers, social entrepreneurs, and fundraisers know, there’s something of a gap between what companies offer in terms of community involvement, employee engagement and philanthropy – and what nonprofits often need. They may be on board for the same causes, the same areas of societal change, the same communities. But they often talk past each other – and that’s based on both structure and culture. They’re not the same, and they often have trouble lining up – even if they both perceive a need for each other.
Indeed, I like this little logic test. Plenty of social investors and big donors will tell nonprofit leaders, “You need to run this a lot more like a profit-making company.” The next time that happens, return fire thusly: “You need to run your company more like a nonprofit.” See? Venus and Mars. Feel the silence.
Last week at the National Press Club in Washington DC, I took part in a panel discussion on employee engagement, corporate philanthropy and the work of the nonprofit sector. The panel was sponsored by America’s Charities, a nonprofit coalition of the U.S. charitable organizations that provides workplace charitable giving campaigns, technology and thought leadership in the sector. This year, America’s Charities did something incredibly smart in conceiving the annual Snapshot report on employee engagement and corporate giving: they surveyed the nonprofits themselves, and focused on those organizational needs.
That focus opened up a wide-ranging discussion in Washington (disclosure: America’s Charities paid my travel expenses, and I’ve spoken at their events before) on the obvious gap between what companies offer and what charities need – and brought some of the key findings in the report to life. Those results were based on discussions with 240 nonprofits from around the country (the full Snapshot report is available for download free of charge) and among the highlights in what is really an important piece of philanthropic research were these nuggets:
Transparency: Roughly two-thirds of the nonprofits believe their corporate partners and individual donors expect greater accountability around impact and measurable results and believe that operating in a digital culture requires them to be more transparent with donors and stakeholders.
Challenges: Half of all the nonprofit say they have a strong relationship with their corporate and institutional partners, yet nearly 90 percent of respondents face significant challenges in sustaining these relationships. And while nearly half of the nonprofits have seen an increase in requests to engage with corporate employees, many meet these requests but are challenged to do so.
Technology: More than 90 percent of the nonprofits said their use of technology has changed in the last three years allowing them to deliver information quicker and feature more data and better communicate with donors – and that they are responding to these demands by expanding their communication strategies and placing more emphasis on story-telling focused on outcomes and results.
The report also states that “engagement is the new standard and workplace giving is changing to embrace the broader aspects of engagement and provide greater opportunities for employees to learn about, interact and engage with charities,” yet it was fascinating during our panel discussion to explore what engagement really means – and how it can be measured. Among a group of panelists that included the Snapshot report’s author, America’s Charities analyst Steve Greenhalgh, GreatNonprofits.org CEO Perla Ni, Lockheed Martin community relations director Emily Simone, and and GuideStar‘s VP of operations, Debra Snider, there was consensus that sometimes companies and partner nonprofits sometimes talk past each other. More than anything else, said Lockheed’s Simone, employees want impact: “what’s the long-term influence you’re having?” Here’s some of that discussion:
Measurement, describing impact, and public evaluation were important parts of the conversation – and sometimes the gulf between the nonprofit data that’s available, and what funders (corporate and otherwise) really want is pretty vast. That relates to expense, time, and the growing demand for data-driven nonprofit reporting. This can be a real challenge for the nonprofits. “We need to find inexpensive, if not free, and simple tools for nonprofits to collect evaluation metrics,” argued Ni, whose organization provides online ratings for charities. Here’s some of that discussion:
So that gap still exists, but I found it interesting that both corporations and organizations like America’s Charities that serve that market are actually struggling with it, instead of standing back with their funds and volunteers and simply letting the nonprofits figure it out – or fail.
As America’s Charities CEO Steve Delfin noted, nonprofits are “meeting new expectations around the impact, sustainability and scalability of their programs and services particularly in a time of reduced government spending and increased competition for scarcer resources.”
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