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Question: In these challenging economic times, how can companies and non-profits best leverage their restricted resources to support and empower local communities?

avatar Michelle Nunn
Points of Light Institute

“We have the opportunity to use this moment of challenge to generate creative, new approaches that empower citizens to actively participate in community problem solving. Let’s try new things, experiment, and push our boundaries. We need change-makers and leaders, institutions and individuals, to create a transformational threshold of possibility. Here are some ideas:

• Corporations should think holistically about their unique assets, including human capital, and ensure they are effectively deploying their financial assets and the unique skills and talents of their employees.

• Let’s build tracking of business-related results into our philanthropic and service investments. What if we measured the degree to which service leadership by employees correlated to performance and retention and measured whether recruitment could be enhanced by using volunteer transcripts as one way of screening potential employees? Can we set new standards of philanthropy based on the success of peer corporations and create a universally recognized Philanthropic Index?

• Nonprofits, in turn, must better determine how to utilize the skills of their volunteers and build in human capital as key to mission fulfillment. They should determine how to best apply business skills and assets to their work - exploring strategies of consolidation for scale and impact and squeezing out cost efficiencies through more sophisticated business practices around procurement, technology and finance.

Human talent is, uniquely, a renewable resource, and in these times of challenge, both nonprofits and corporations must learn to better deploy this reservoir in order to meet the enormous challenges and opportunities before us.”

avatar Majora Carter
Majora Carter Group LLC

“Often, the best art, innovation, and entrepreneurs evolve from scarcity - people have to be creative with their resources. Invariably the best resources are the people.

As I've moved from non-profit to consulting and investment strategies, we seek companies as clients because we know the shortcomings of conventional giving. Think about it - philanthropic spending is at unprecedented levels in history, and yet income disparities, educational outcomes, public health, environmental justice, and poverty are getting worse despite hitherto 'unrestricted' resources.

Charity supports disparity. Do we want more dependent or independent people? Investment and economic engagement strategies can distribute the range of experiences people need to succeed in times of plenty or scarcity.

For instance, a company needing to advertise its product, and a community that needs tree guards and benches, can result in a billboard service on the one hand, and some street 'amenities' on the other. Or, they could engage a local for or not-for-profit corporation to build these things with sponsoring advertising built into the infrastructure. This will satisfy needs on multiple levels, and open people up to new business opportunities on the ground. They'll see value in the same streets they have dreamed of escaping.

The goal is to help people know they don't have to move out of their neighborhood to live in a better one, and a neighborhood dependent on charity will always be a place to leave, whereas a place that is attracting positive investment and business activity will be something to be proud of.”

avatar Michael R. Bloomberg
Mayor of New York

“In New York City, our answer is as simple as it is powerful: Service. We recently introduced NYC Service, a broad-based initiative that we hope will make our city the easiest place in the world to volunteer, while also helping residents direct their efforts to areas where they can make the greatest impact. We’ve focused NYC Service on six of our high-need areas: strengthening our communities, helping our neighbors, protecting the environment, supporting education, promoting public health, and bolstering emergency preparedness.

Companies also have a real opportunity to make a difference by tapping into the goodwill and talent of their own workforce, and that starts by asking many of the same questions that city governments and non-profits are asking: What are the most pressing needs in our community? How can we help alleviate them with the particular human resources at our disposal? And how can we effectively measure our impact?

NYC Service reflects our Administration’s determination to forge innovative solutions to complex problems. But, of course, a solution is a solution only if it works. That’s why we’re committed to measuring results and making adjustments on the basis of the evidence we gather—just as any good business would do. Any company that asks its employees to donate their time has to ensure that the effort is repaid with success, and New York City residents who give their time deserve no less.”

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Most Recent Comments

  1. avatar Walt Thompson,

    Keep Putnam Beautiful – http://www.putnamcountyny.com/kpb – works with businesses, local governments and volunteers to improve the quality of life in Putnam County. Beautification projects and litter reduction initiatives are funded by donations and grants for the 413 volunteers who contribute so much to our communities.

  2. I appreciate Chuck’s comment about the intellectual resources an organization’s employees can offer their community. Timberland’s sabbatical program, which provides employees with the opportunity to serve with a non-profit on a capacity building project for two weeks up to six months, is a great way to share our most valued resource (our employees’ time and skills) with our community. When I decline a non-profit’s request for a cash donation, I mention this program as an opportunity for the organization to submit a request to us for an employee’s time. I’m surprised by how few organizations take us up on it. While we have criteria that need to be met to grant a sabbatical, the program is underutilized. I certainly understand why organizations need to focus on cash but it seems, as the economy limits corporate giving across the board, it might be worthwhile for organizations to be prepared to consider (and make requests for) the other ways in which corporations can give.

  3. At Timberland we have a deliberate process we follow to evaluate our core competencies, identify the service impact we wish to make, and agree upon expectations with our partners. Since Earth Day 2008, we have focused our service efforts on Green Service projects. As an outdoor brand, it makes sense for us to leverage our corporate service events to forward our Earthkeeping agenda. We developed and adopted our GREEN Service Standard to be our guide for determining where and how to serve. GREEN is an acronym that references grassroots, reduced/recycled, engagement, education and carbon neutrality (http://responsibility.timberland.com/service). Having a clear process enables us to infuse an environmental ethos into our service work and to contribute to our communities with consistency and impact worldwide.

  4. avatar Chris Gassman - Social Intrapreneur & Leadership Coach,

    When groups that I’ve coached ask “how can we effectively engage the community?”, the most straightforward answer is often: break down the question you just asked.

    WE: what uniquely identifies us (e.g. values, demographic make-up, market offering, etc.)?
    EFFECTIVELY: what are our strengths, what core competencies do we have that are transferable?
    ENGAGE: what levels of engagement (e.g. hands on, training, facilitating/convening, etc.) best utilize which core competencies?
    COMMUNITY: What scope is relevant here (how wide/far do we cast the net)?

    In Timberland’s case, the We, Effectively, & Community seem to be well articulated, how about the Engage? What level or levels of engagement are the most effective for Timberland? Given its focus on educating and empowering people, for example, engaging groups such as AIESEC (www.aiesec.org) as a trainer or EarthForce (www.earthforce.org) as a facilitator could be an effective way to leverage Timberland’s core competencies in those areas.

  5. avatar Chuck Gordon - City Year,

    The greatest resources for any private company or non profit organization is its people. These challenging economic times highlight how powerful those people can be when it comes to supporting and building local communities.

    The intellectual, physical and financial resources that a company’s people can bring to a community can’t be underestimated. When a company meaningfully encourages employees to join boards, take time off to volunteer, and elevates service as a corporate value – as The Timberland Company has – that sends the message internally and externally that the relationship between company and community is a partnership.

    It’s hard to place a value on the importance of intellectual capital. The wealth of experience and skill that talented employees can offer those in need of their assistance brings community benefit beyond financial support alone. When best practices from the private sector are adopted by a non-profit, that is beneficial for the organization’s people and mission.

    Service work in our neighborhood schools and community centers provides them with improvements they otherwise could not make for themselves, and the families they serve. Programs at City Year like Care Force have long demonstrated to interested organizations that employees can make a tangible difference across the country and across the globe. The visible demonstration of this investment in the community and care for communities’ success make a powerful statement.

  6. avatar Ian Emery,

    I’m interested in your thoughts on how employees in companies that don’t currently support the community can move their company towards being more responsible. Are there examples of employee led transformation?

  7. avatar Anderson Cheng,

    Companies and non-profits can effectively help local communities by providing a service. For example, companies can offer clean-up services to communities facing problems with vandalism and pollution. Vandalism and pollution are often quite expensive to clean-up, and unfortunately, many cities cannot afford to focus their attention and money on cleaning up the mess. During economic distress, cities have the make the decision to place their attention on other important issues such as crime and poverty. In addition, companies facing restricted resources can offer these volunteer services by motivating their employees to donate their time. Through this, the company is benefiting by marketing their company and developing employee relationships.

  8. avatar Noeleen Nunez,

    Communities often know the best solutions to the challenges they face. Many local organizations are already at work to confront the underlying root causes that affect their everyday lives and to shift the unjust systems at play. Companies and non-profits who want to contribute to long term impact would be wise to join forces with the grassroots organizers addressing local policy change. Changing systems in order to create and sustain a healthy environment for everyone requires energy, capacity and manpower. Aligning engagement programs with pre-existing local efforts would maximize resources and result in mutually beneficial, positive social change.

  9. avatar Elaine Cohen - CSR Consultant & Reporter,

    There are many many non-profits everywhere, all promoting important causes and competing for what today are even more limited resources than pre-finiancial-crisis times. One of the key ways in which non-profits can enhance their efficient use of resources is to adopt a partnership approach – find appropriate non-profit like-minded partners and work together to the same end, sharing whatever resources they can. In some cases, this might even suggest a merging of organizations – much like the business world. The non-profit arena is crowded – and as we see in business – a larger organization can better leverage resources to achieve its objectives. In my work as a consultant, i am currently supporting the merger of two non-profits working in the area of food insecurity – an exciting move!

    A second point relates to how business can help. Most businesses offer three types of support to non-profits – cash, in-kind donations of equipment or services, and volunteers. this is all great , but what businesses really need to do is provide non-profits with the skills to develop their own capabilities. Teach them how to communicate and market themselves more effectively, how to use resources more effectively, how to plan and develop appropriate strategies. Non-profits must also be socially and environmentally responsible – and csr-minded businesses can help them develop their efforts in this direction too. An example here is that my consulting practice is supporting a non-profit organisation in developing, writing and publishing its first Sustainability Report – the first in our market for a non-profit – on a pro-bono basis. The reporting process, and the report itself, will both contribute to enhance the capability of the non-profit organization.

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion!

  10. We have the opportunity to use this moment of challenge to generate creative, new approaches that empower citizens to actively participate in community problem solving. Let’s try new things, experiment, and push our boundaries. We need change-makers and leaders, institutions and individuals, to create a transformational threshold of possibility. Here are some ideas:

    • Corporations should think holistically about their unique assets, including human capital, and ensure they are effectively deploying their financial assets and the unique skills and talents of their employees.

    • Let’s build tracking of business-related results into our philanthropic and service investments. What if we measured the degree to which service leadership by employees correlated to performance and retention and measured whether recruitment could be enhanced by using volunteer transcripts as one way of screening potential employees? Can we set new standards of philanthropy based on the success of peer corporations and create a universally recognized Philanthropic Index?

    • Nonprofits, in turn, must better determine how to utilize the skills of their volunteers and build in human capital as key to mission fulfillment. They should determine how to best apply business skills and assets to their work – exploring strategies of consolidation for scale and impact and squeezing out cost efficiencies through more sophisticated business practices around procurement, technology and finance.

    Human talent is, uniquely, a renewable resource, and in these times of challenge, both nonprofits and corporations must learn to better deploy this reservoir in order to meet the enormous challenges and opportunities before us.

  11. Often, the best art, innovation, and entrepreneurs evolve from scarcity – people have to be creative with their resources. Invariably the best resources are the people.

    As I’ve moved from non-profit to consulting and investment strategies, we seek companies as clients because we know the shortcomings of conventional giving. Think about it – philanthropic spending is at unprecedented levels in history, and yet income disparities, educational outcomes, public health, environmental justice, and poverty are getting worse despite hitherto ‘unrestricted’ resources.

    Charity supports disparity. Do we want more dependent or independent people? Investment and economic engagement strategies can distribute the range of experiences people need to succeed in times of plenty or scarcity.

    For instance, a company needing to advertise its product, and a community that needs tree guards and benches, can result in a billboard service on the one hand, and some street ‘amenities’ on the other. Or, they could engage a local for or not-for-profit corporation to build these things with sponsoring advertising built into the infrastructure. This will satisfy needs on multiple levels, and open people up to new business opportunities on the ground. They’ll see value in the same streets they have dreamed of escaping.

    The goal is to help people know they don’t have to move out of their neighborhood to live in a better one, and a neighborhood dependent on charity will always be a place to leave, whereas a place that is attracting positive investment and business activity will be something to be proud of.

  12. In New York City, our answer is as simple as it is powerful: Service. We recently introduced NYC Service, a broad-based initiative that we hope will make our city the easiest place in the world to volunteer, while also helping residents direct their efforts to areas where they can make the greatest impact. We’ve focused NYC Service on six of our high-need areas: strengthening our communities, helping our neighbors, protecting the environment, supporting education, promoting public health, and bolstering emergency preparedness.

    Companies also have a real opportunity to make a difference by tapping into the goodwill and talent of their own workforce, and that starts by asking many of the same questions that city governments and non-profits are asking: What are the most pressing needs in our community? How can we help alleviate them with the particular human resources at our disposal? And how can we effectively measure our impact?

    NYC Service reflects our Administration’s determination to forge innovative solutions to complex problems. But, of course, a solution is a solution only if it works. That’s why we’re committed to measuring results and making adjustments on the basis of the evidence we gather—just as any good business would do. Any company that asks its employees to donate their time has to ensure that the effort is repaid with success, and New York City residents who give their time deserve no less.

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