Delivered by FedEx.
Green business. Social enterprise. Corporate social responsibility. Once trendy ideas, these are now standard operations for many large companies. But what does this mean for smaller business and the entrepreneur? Should you jump on the bandwagon?
Chances are you were on the bandwagon before the big companies caught on. Entrepreneurs, by virtue of their close connection to the community, have been at the forefront of doing well by doing good. Involvement in the local Kiwanis, blood drive or community fund drive are examples of nonprofit partnerships that make you feel good, benefit the community and help business.
But there are many other ways you can work with nonprofits. Here are a few:
- Fund drives. You encourage staff to participate in local community fund drives, making a generous donation of your own. You set expectations (but don’t force donations) and ask staff to help with the drive.
- Event sponsorship. You sponsor some or all of a nonprofit event, such as a fundraiser, a public educational event or a similar public activity.
- Employee volunteer programs. You may loan staff as volunteers for events or other service time in local nonprofits. You or your staff may serve on the board of a nonprofit, or serve in an advisory role.
- Corporate donation programs. These may range from donations of products and money to the establishment of a corporate foundation with regularly funded nonprofits.
- Cause-related marketing. Here, a business links its services or products with a nonprofit cause. For example, donating a portion of every purchase to the nonprofit in exchange for marketing.
- Alliances and collaborations. These complex arrangements are not unlike business-to-business alliances. For example, a business may join a collaboration of local food banks, homeless shelters and health providers to reduce poverty in the surrounding community.
- Social enterprises. Here, the business seeks a profit while creating a social improvement. For example, a business may restore vehicles—simultaneously training mechanics, donating repaired vehicles to low-income families, and selling other vehicles to support the project. Such a business may be designed in several ways, including as a partnership with a nonprofit.
Those experienced with business-nonprofit relationships have reported a variety of business benefits, including:
- Reputation and brand enhancement. When you link your name with a respected public cause, you build goodwill for your company. Benefits include customer and employee loyalty and a reputation for accountability and integrity. You put a generous human face on your business.
- Positive media coverage and low-cost advertising. For example, your logo will be seen when you sponsor a charity event, and you can leverage that sponsorship into business stories about your community engagement.
- Personal and corporate sense of well-being. The personal benefits translate into better health, improved employee morale, retention, recruitment, loyalty and other important attributes that serve both the soul and the bottom line.
- Product and service improvements. You can learn a lot from a nonprofit partner. Chronically tight budgets force nonprofits into innovative solutions. Moreover, you can gain valuable intelligence about markets, as your deepened connection to the community improves your ability to generate new products and service ideas.
- Valuable professional development. Loaning staff to a nonprofit for board, advisory or other volunteer service is a time-honored way to groom high-potential staff. Their work benefits the community, reflects positively on your company, hones their skills and broadens their networks in ways that prepare them for heightened responsibility in your business.
Of course, business-nonprofit partnerships are not without their difficulties. Nonprofits are motivated by mission and may be suspicious of your rational market motives. Their lean environment sometimes results in slow decision-making. Keep in mind that it’s a two-way street—you will be as mysterious and illogical to them as they are to you. Don’t personalize the differences; instead, focus on mutual benefit and interests. The following steps will help you ensure a good match:
- Be clear about expected benefits, self-interests, non-negotiables and joint outcomes.
- Take time to build mutual trust, respect and understanding.
- Develop clear roles, goals and accountabilities.
- Communicate frequently and address differences quickly and forthrightly.
- Assign project leaders from the business and the nonprofit who have the authority to make decisions on behalf of each organization.
- Stay flexible and adaptable as the partnership evolves.
Working with a nonprofit should benefit you, the nonprofit and the community. Enter into such partnerships with enthusiasm and eyes wide open, and you’ll reap numerous rewards.
Vince Hyman is a St. Paul, Minn.-based writer and editor.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
American Express OPEN and FedEx have teamed up to provide discounts and a comprehensive resource for shipping, business and print services. To learn more, go to fedex.com/opensavings.
OPEN Savings®: Payment must be made with an American Express®Business Card at the time of purchase; savings will be credited to your account. Other restrictions and limitations may apply. Subject to offer terms and conditions located at opensavings.com. Merchant participation and offers are subject to change without notice.