Working Together

On Tuesday, I had the great pleasure of attending the Business and Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit and Awards, hosted by Greater DC Cares. Beyond recognizing the amazing social contributions of several nonprofit and corporate businesses in the community, we had several opportunities to open a dialogue about how to create new partnerships as well as tons of networking and resource sharing opportunities. The event began with a roundtable discussion between leaders whose organizations were nominated for the awards. We heard from ACE Mentor Program, CareFirst BlueCross Blue Shield, Fannie Mae, Horton’s Kids, IBM, and Wider Circle. Everyone involved was extremely passionate about getting things done and quite experienced with the interactions between business and nonprofit leaders when it comes to creating social good.

Efficiency came up over and over again in this discussion, and it’s important on both ends. As organizations, we’re all facing budget cuts and in the human service fields we’re facing increased need at the same time. Corporations and foundations are facing the same budget cuts and while most are still committed to community partnerships they need to make sure more than ever that each and every grant, in-kind donation and hour paid to an employee volunteer is a worthy investment. Businesses of all types have been closing their doors over the last couple of years and those remaining know that we’ve got to work a little smarter to ensure our longevity.

It’s not all bad, though. With a critical look at what we’re doing well and doing not so well and an open mind to collaboration, the nonprofit sector may very well come out of this sector as a leaner and more effective entity. Now’s a great chance to really make sure that we’re mission-driven. As easy as it is to want to stretch beyond our capabilities and touch every aspect of the lives of those we serve, it’s probably better to do a small number of things well. Horton’s Kids, for instance, has an amazing after school program and Wider Circle know how to find and distribute furniture. Yes, some of the kids in the program at Horton’s Kids need beds and yes, some of the families that Wider Circle reaches out to include children who would benefit from tutoring. Instead of trying to start a program about which they know little though, they’ll each cross-refer their clients. No one is competing, the families are exposed to the services that they need, and everyone can stick to what they do well. Clearly it’s not always that cut-and-dry in reality, but it’s certainly something for which we can strive.

After the opening roundtable, I sat in on a session on Partnerships, which included leaders from The Commnity Foundation, Deloitte LLP and ServeDC. The primary focus here was on nonprofits and for-profit businesses working together, and again the discussion was amazing. We talked largely about how a small organization can begin working with a corporation through service days, donations, grants and employee volunteers. Just like all other forms of networking and partnership development, it couldn’t be stressed enough that what drives these partnerships are relationships. Time and trust are absolutely key. Like with anything else, it’s easy to start slowly and be open from the beginning. Instead of asking for money right from the beginning, you might want to propose a service project where the business can send out employees en masse to do one large project. Or you might ask an HR department to post mentoring opportunities internally and allow employees to leave work an hour early once a week in order to get to the after school program on time. By starting with small asks, the organizations can get a feel for whether they work well together and eventually it may turn into sponsorships or other forms of support. We also talked about how we tend to focus on huge corporations even though small businesses make up so much of our economy and community, and collectively have a lot to contribute. Just make sure to be flexible- one owner of a catering company mentioned that he’s always being asked for money, and when he says that’s not an option, those looking for donations just end the conversation and walk away. Who knows how much in-kind food or how many volunteer hours they’ve been missing out on!


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