Social business, Part 4: Nonprofit builds corporate partnerships from ground up

By Todd Cohen

In 2008, The Home Depot approached Good360, formerly Gifts In Kind, about working together to provide the Atlanta-based retailer with a way to put to productive use inventory it was not able to sell.

Good360, based on Alexandria, Va., worked with the information technology department at The Home Depot to help identify the products the company would be donating.

“We listened,” explained Cindy Hallberlin, president and CEO of Good360. “We didn’t come in with a cookie cutter plan. We said, ‘What’s your plan and vision?’ We got aligned, not just with management but also with technology. We made sure there’s a marriage between their system and ours so we could be as efficient as possible.”

The effort began modestly, with The Home Depot distributing that inventory to 25 Good360 stores where 25 local nonprofits could pick up that donated inventory.

By 2009, finding that some stores had more donated inventory than the local nonprofits could handle, Good360 worked with The Home Depot on a strategy to develop warehouses so that instead of donating goods to individual nonprofits, many local nonprofits could visit the warehouses to pick up donated goods .

Now, the partnership has grown to nearly 1,300 stores and five warehouses, developed by local nonprofit partners with seed grants from The Home Depot.

“You need to listen and understand the needs of your corporate partner, as well as the needs of those you serve,” Hallberlin said. “If you’re meeting only the needs of the corporation and not meeting the needs of the end users, it’s not a good program.”

Overall, the partnership has helped distribute donated products to over 600,000 low-income families, diverting that inventory from landfills and in some cases saving money by not sending it back to a distribution center.

It also has connected thousands of charities with The Home Depot, helping to create good will and customer loyalty among the supporters and clients of those charities, Hallberlin said.

A single nonprofit served by the partnership, for example, purchased $500,000 worth of products at The Home Depot in a single day for a building project, she said.

“Nonprofits have collective buying power,” she explained. “If you get donations from The Home Depot, you’re going to go there for discretionary purchases.”

Next: Companies work with nonprofits to build markets

The series:

Part 1: Companies team with causes to add value

Part 2: Companies build giving into business strategy

Part 3: Philanthropy adds value for companies

Part 4: Nonprofit builds corporate partnerships from ground up

Part 5: Company works with nonprofit to build markets

Part 6: Companies turn to nonprofits to help develop leaders

Part 7: Nonprofits tap corporate expertise

Part 8: Company teams with nonprofit to solve social problems

Part 9: Nonprofits work with companies to help find business solutions

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Social business, Part 1: Companies team with causes to add value

By Todd Cohen

Looking for an alternative to dumping unsold inventory in landfills or paying to have returns sent back to a distribution center, The Home Depot formed a partnership with Good360, a nonprofit that distributes new product donations to nonprofits.

The American Red Cross, wanting to improve its delivery of supplies to regions hit by disasters, teamed up with FedEx for its expertise and assistance with shipping, logistics, supply-chain strategy and warehousing.

And DonorsChoose.org, hoping to find an innovative way to invest $1 million it had won through a contest sponsored by online retailer Amazon, developed and funded a charity gift card that Crate and Barrel agreed to distribute to its top customers.

Corporate social responsibility is hot. Facing rising expectations from their customers, employees, investors and vendors to improve their efficiency and bottom line in a marketplace that has grown fiercely competitive since the capital markets collapsed four-and-a-half years ago, corporations increasingly are moving beyond traditional philanthropy to make a social and environmental impact, voluntarily disclose what they are doing to be good corporate citizens, and promoting their social investment.

CSRwire, a service that distributes news releases, reports and other materials about corporate social responsibility, now has over 8,000 members, up from 117 10 years ago, with roughly 1 million readers a month and about 20,000 pieces of content on its website.

“We like to think it’s mission driven,” said Jack Wysocki, vice president of business development for CSRwire, which is based in Springfield, Mass. “But in all actuality, the large corporations are realizing that corporate social responsibility is good for the bottom line.”

A study last year by two management professors at the University of California at Davis found that companies saw big increases in their stock prices within days of distributing corporate social responsibility news releases through CSRwire, Wysocki said.

Companies also have become more strategic about their philanthropy, developing relationships with nonprofits designed to make a greater impact on social and global problems.

“Companies are looking for sources of competitiveness for the business, and realizing one way business can grow is by solving social problems,” said Talya Bosch, vice president for social ventures at Western Union.

Janelle Lin, vice president for partnerships and business development at DonorsChoose.org, explained that, when associated with a cause, a company “can stand out from the clutter and really rally the passion of their consumer base to drive loyalty.”

So in looking for corporate partners, experts said, a nonprofit should try to identify business challenges it can help companies address, as well as the value companies can add to its own organization.

Next: Companies build giving into business strategy

The series:

Part 1: Companies team with causes to add value

Part 2: Companies build giving into business strategy

Part 3: Philanthropy adds value for companies

Part 4: Nonprofit builds corporate partnerships from ground up

Part 5: Company works with nonprofit to build markets

Part 6: Companies turn to nonprofits to help develop leaders

Part 7: Nonprofits tap corporate expertise

Part 8: Company teams with nonprofit to solve social problems

Part 9: Nonprofits work with companies to help find business solutions