Last week I facilitated a panel discussion about corporate philanthropy at a Boys & Girls Club regional conference in Milwaukee. Serving on that panel was a CEO, COO and CFO from two companies in the Fortune 500 and another company from the Fortune 1000. I personally had a great time interviewing those gentlemen, but later that evening I caught some of the news coverage about the Occupy Wall Street protests. Needless to say, it was a confusing day for me that represented quite a dichotomy.
When I feel this way, I typically like to retreat back to listing off simple facts and try to find some truth and clarity. Here are a few of those facts running through my head this morning:
- Of the $300 billion given to charities every year, approximately 5-percent comes from corporations and more than 75% comes from individuals
- There are CEOs who are committed to corporate responsibility and making our world a better place to live as seen in this YouTube video from the 2011 Board of Boards CEO conference.
- There are individuals who are afraid of corporations and banks as you can see in this YouTube video of a 20-year-old Wall Street protester.
- While corporations are legal structures without emotions, there are countless numbers of people behind the corporate veil who are living, breathing and compassionate.
From a charitable giving and non-profit perspective, I am always amazed at how aggressive we go after corporate sponsorship and donations even though the statistics don’t seem to justify that strategy. After giving this some thought, I’ve concluded the following two things:
- Non-profit volunteer solicitors must feel more uncomfortable talking to individuals about making a donation than even I thought possible.
- Non-profit volunteers exhibit this sense of “entitlement” when talking to corporations about charitable giving. (e.g. corporations “owe” this charitable money to our non-profit organizations because we shop at their stores every day and give them our hard-earned money).
If my two conclusions are “on the mark,” then non-profit leaders have a problem on their hands, and I assure you that things are not going to end well. Regardless of how much we cross our fingers and wish, these two things will NOT change: 1) corporations will not suddenly find more money to give away (go back and listen to the CEO conference video very carefully) and 2) individuals will always be the at the heart of a successful charitable giving program.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. Don’t stop engaging corporate America . . . continue writing grants, asking for contributions and sponsorships, and building partnerships. However, you need to keep perspective and your eyes on the prize. Listen carefully to this corporate philanthropy manager and I suspect you will come to the realization that your corporate philanthropy strategy can drive the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING to your resource development plans — increased individual giving and support.
Non-profit leaders need to pick themselves up off the ground, put the daisy down and stop singing songs related to: “She loves me, she loves me not“. We need to start LEADING and understand that corporate leaders need to make tough decisions around their limited charitable giving budgets. CEOs want to see return on investment, but even more so, they want their non-profit partners to help them engage their employees and advance their brand.
Additionally, non-profit leaders need to double down on training and working with their fundraising volunteers. We need to help these people get over their fear associated with soliciting individuals. We also need to help them let go of their entitlement attitudes around corporate philanthropy. These two things won’t happen without your leadership, and this paradigm shift must occur if your non-profit organization is going to get healthy during these tough economic times.
So, please feel free to go down to the Wall Street protests in your community, pick-up a sign and march to your heart’s content. It is quintessentially American to do so if you feel that way about the state of our economy and corporate America. However, you ALSO need to figure out how to build bridges to your corporate partners that will enable you to walk their employees (and your future donors) across that bridge and towards your organization’s mission.
Here is to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC