I had two very interesting, albeit diametrically opposed, discussions last week. In one case, a development director for a local non-profit complained of the confusion she said emanated from corporate charitable-giving circles nowadays. In the other case, a corporate client confessed his confusion over a barrage of requests for funding from non-profits that were threatening to bury his desk. Hmmmm.
What is going on may not be difficult to understand. Resolving the problem is a lot more difficult.
Non-profits are being squeezed today like never before. Less money from government, coupled with rising expenses. Fewer volunteers, coupled with rising liability concerns. To whom can these strapped organizations turn? In many cases, they seek to make up shortfalls from the corporate community.
Segue to the corporate giving officer's desk. Unprecedented numbers of requests for money, executive and blue-collar volunteers, non-cash contributions, even joint marketing efforts. Even if there were enough funding to go around, the beleaguered executive couldn't possibly review the voluminous requests, let alone fairly evaluate them.
Judith Frey, a well-known corporate social responsibility consultant from Grand Rapids, Mich., echoes this state of affairs. "Executives are besieged right now. But, with a good corporate giving program, employee enthusiasm and morale is boosted, as is volunteerism throughout the work force." The question is how to go about building a good program.
Ms. Frey teamed with author Gabrielle Works to produce a comprehensive workbook, which her company uses to counsel corporate clients. "Effective Corporate Philanthropy: Building a Giving Program With Impact" is available only as part of a consulting package, a strategic decision that Ms. Frey says was needed to prevent the book from sitting idly on executive shelves.
This summer I came across two other good resources (as well as some useless ones) for those on either side of the corporate philanthropy equation, from Independent Sector, the Washington-based non-profit that studies non-profit issues and advocates a healthy non-profit sector.
I personally don't know any corporate-giving colleagues that have enough funds to meet even modest giving goals this year. Most spent their budgets by summer's start. As a result, non-cash assistance becomes increasingly important. "Resource Raising: The Role of Non-Cash Assistance in Corporate Philanthropy" by Alex Plinio and Joanne Scanlon discusses donations of facilities, services, lent talent, new and depreciated inventory, program-related investments and employee volunteers.
This short (56 pages) soft-cover work is a model in clarity. It offers the reader a quick tour of non-cash giving that provides an excellent overview for non-profit development officers and for corporate-giving personnel.
A second booklet (60 pages) covers the hot area of cause-related marketing, a term coined by American Express and now widely used.
Cause-related marketing, according to the authors, refers to the "mutually beneficial relationship between a corporation and a non-profit organization in which the former pursues marketing and promotional objectives and the latter pursues fund-raising and public relations objectives."
The booklet is based on a small number of interviews with corporate and non-profit executives. It was designed to give a qualitative overview of cause-related marketing, as actually practiced in the field.
I've found that cause-related marketing is one of the most profoundly misunderstood concepts in the never-ending dance between corporations and non-profits. If it works, it looks easy from the outside. Believe me, from the inside it never is. And both parties need to be sincere, sophisticated, committed to win-win negotiations and ready for the long haul if it is to be successful.
The authors do a good job of painting a broad brush stroke of the field, including caveats and recommendations. For those non-profits contemplating such a joint venture, this booklet is very informative.
Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.