Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Corporate Spin on Nonprofit Partnerships

Written by: Heidi Eckstein

“Without help from corporations, non-profits will surely find themselves increasingly irrelevant to the 21st century.”

Just more than a decade ago Craig Smith put this harsh prediction in his book “Giving by Industry: A Reference Guide to the New Corporate Philanthropy.” Mr. Smith analyzed various industries and examined how charities could match their solicitations with the company’s goals.[i]

It turns out he was right. Christina Gold, CEO of Western Union, says, “Nonprofits would do well to consider the full range of benefits they can offer their corporate sponsors.” A corporation is not just trying to do well; it is creating a positive public image. And, at least in Western Union’s case, this involves working with nonprofits that aligned with their social programming and geographic reach.

Their Our World, Our Family program achieves this by providing financial services expertise to the company’s primary client base. Importantly, the program provides “opportunities for [Western Union] to offer value beyond monetary contributions alone.”[ii]

One example of this type of contribution is the Target Forensics lab. By allowing federal crime investigators to use their labs, as well as fund police forces and create inter-office information sharing technology based on inventory management, Target Corp. increases goodwill while investing in a safer environment. Potential payoffs could include less shoplifting or safer and happier employees.[iii]

Two years ago Target was ranked 11th “Most Admired Company” by Fortune Magazine, in large part because of its policy of giving back to the community.[iv] The company consistently donates about 5% of its pre-tax income and early last year Target leveraged this in a Facebook campaign in which fans could vote for which group they wanted Target to fund.

The two-week long Facebook campaign was intended to spread awareness of Target’s charitable activities. As Chadwick Matlin puts it, corporation philanthropy has two rules. Rule 1: A corporation should do good. Rule 2: It should tell everyone that it’s doing Rule 1.[v]

Now it Target’s case, donating to St. Jude’s Children Hospital may not line up with their public image as a trendy, cheap retailer. But other companies work with nonprofits in corresponding fields. For example, much of the philanthropy of pharmaceutical companies goes to university science programs.

So how can your nonprofit find a corporate partner?

1. Look for a corporation whose vision lines up with yours. If your objectives and those of the company are similar, it’ll be easier to justify why they should give you money.

2. Remember this is a business partnership. As Ms. Gold said, “I appreciate it when potential partners respect our time by coming prepared with ideas that clearly resonate with who we are… Those NGO’s that clearly have done their homework in advance enable us to have a much more productive conversation.”

[i] C. Quinn Hanchette. “Industrious Charities Can Earn Corporate Gifts, Author Says.” Jul 15 1999.<>.

[ii] Caroline Preston. “Rethinking Corporate Giving: Western Union’s CEO Offers Her Philosophy.” Jun 3 2010.<>.

[iii] Sarah Bridges. “Retailer Target Branches Out Into Police Work.” Jan 29 2006.

[v] Chadwick Matlin and Win Rosenfeld. “Target’s Facebook Philanthropy.” May 20 2009.

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