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

By Todd Cohen

[Note: Last in a series.]

In looking for a corporate partner, nonprofits should identify business challenges that they can help a company address and that a company can help them address, experts said.

“Corporations are not these monolithic entities,” explained Katherine Smith, director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College. “They’re made up of people who have pressures they’re experiencing and jobs to do, and those pressures are more extreme than 25 years ago.”

If a nonprofit can figure out how to “help the company accomplish a job, or help that person in that company accomplish a job they have to do, it will be that much easier to secure support,” she said.

Including employee matching gifts, the average medium-sized company makes 1,200 to 2,000 gifts a year through its corporate giving program based on a review process managed by about six people who review two times to three times that many funding proposals, Smith said.

“As worthy as¬† you know your cause is, the person on the corporate side is looking at thousands of worthy causes,” she explained. “Think about how you’re different, and make sure the person in the company understands how your cause and organization are different.”

Talya Bosch, Boston-based vice president for social ventures for Western Union, which is based in Englewood, Colo., said nonprofits should move beyond the “usual suspects” in a company’s community relations department and connect with officials in other departments, such as marketing, human resources, and product development.

“If you understand what the business is trying to achieve and what the challenges are,” she explained, “you might find common ground where you can help the company achieve business goals while also achieving community goals.”

And just as companies can benefit from being linked to a nonprofit with a strong brand, nonprofits can benefit from being associated with a “credible company,” she said.

“Good will and community trust,” she explained, “can very much cut both ways.”

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 nonprofits 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

Social business, Part 8: Company teams with nonprofit to solve social problems

By Todd Cohen

As part of a partnership it formed in 2006 with Mercy Corps, a global aid agency based in Portland, Ore., Western Union has worked on a range of projects, including market-driven relief efforts to spur recovery in Haiti in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake there.

Rather than give away water in tent cities, for example, Mercy Corps helped people establish water businesses and also gave people cash or vouchers for work so they could buy water or other services, explained, Talya Bosch, Boston-based vice president for social ventures for Western Union, which is based in Englewood, Colo.

Those new businesses “were designed to be sustainable so people could continue to provide those services,” she said.

The company also uses its global network of agents to engaged migrant communities throughout the world to contribute to development efforts. In Haiti, for example, the company matched consumer donations to Mercy Corps one-for-one and enabled migrants to serve as mentors to fledgling entrepreneurs there, providing expertise on topics such as human resources, marketing and accounting.

“We were able to engage our business partners, agents, employees and customers,” Bosch said. “That makes a difference. People have a choice about which company to do business with and spend money with, and they tend to prefer a company that made a difference in their community.”

Next: Nonprofits work with companies to help find business solutions

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 nonprofits 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

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