Companies are more or less in a contributions rut. For instance, it’s become a predictable grant pattern for many communities when developing program budgets or building campaigns to know which companies will donate to the cause… and roughly how much money will be given. If there’s any doubt to my statement, just go to any nonprofit board meeting and observe the annual budget discussion. What you’ll learn is that many donors are penciled in for future contributions, for years to come. Likewise, go to any professional corporate contributions budget planning meeting, and you’ll see the mirror of the discussion. Many nonprofits are penciled in for future contributions for years to come. Really, the only discussion needed is around when the proposal should be sent to the donor, and when should the donor respond. My guess is, this occurs with 80% of the contributions budgets… for both sides of the table.
Routineness in corporate contributions isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it makes life much easier and predictable. Companies love predictability. It makes the year run more smoothly, and causes less heartburn. In fact, I am a big advocate for installing predictable patterns into the contribution process, in an effort to reduce time and wasted energy on an otherwise mundane part of the contribution strategy.
However… at what point does routine miss the bigger picture? When, in the course of a corporate / nonprofit relationship, does a cycle impede processes and actually begin to cause harm? (“Harm” in a relative sense… more so meaning that the company no longer enhances its image, brand, and reputation, and the non-profit no longer strives to put itself out of business.)
I think that the company should conduct assessments regularly, regarding a nonprofit relationship… on a regular basis. But what could this assessment include? Here are five no-wrong-answer evaluation angles that I recommend:
- Introspective: How long has the relationship been in place? How much money has been gifted? What is the overall outcome of the relationship – since it began? How is the relationship achieving the company’s goals on this issue?
- Community Assessment: How is the nonprofit relevant to the targeted community’s needs and outcomes? What is the nonprofit’s competition, who supports those organizations, to what level of success are those organizations achieving? What is the near and near-future “threat” within the community, relating to this organization’s issue area, and is the organization poised to tackle the threat?
- Nonprofit Assessment: What is the skill set of the organization’s key personnel? Are those people stuck in meetings, pushing paper, or otherwise preoccupied instead of focusing a majority of their time on the project(s) supported by the company? What are the organizations’ five hopes and desires for the next five years? What are ten things that the organization needs within the next year to achieve progress towards those desires?
- Proposal Assessment: Given that the funds are pretty much positively assumed, what else can the money be used for at the organization? Could the company leverage its position to attract other donors, thereby reducing its overall stake in the organization’s success? Are there corporate assets, people, or other company-controllable measures that can be included in future proposals and relationships with this organization?
- Who Cares Assessment: Seriously, can the average person on the street, knowing little to nothing about the company or nonprofit, quickly understand why the relationship exists and what benefits the community gains from the relationship? Do important corporate audiences care about the relationship? If neither of these audiences do, what must be changed to bring about proper awareness or a change in the relationship?
Obviously, all efforts to support charities are a good thing. However, given a everyone’s limited budgets, time, and attention, are the routine relationships still valuable to the company? I think many people will be surprised at how much money could be redirected to other efforts. The assessment doesn’t need to have a negative outcome. In fact, the organization might benefit even more so by the company’s examination. Who knows, maybe this is what’s needed to push the organization onto greater achievements.
About the Author
Leith Robotham is a global corporate community engagement specialist, assisting companies large and small to improve corporate image, brand and reputation among multiple stakeholders. Currently, Leith directs the corporate services and engagement activities of Kordant Philanthropy Advisors. Previously, he established Caterpillar Foundation’s international grants program. Follow Leith on Twitter @global_donor