What Should Corporate America Do for Nonprofits?

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June 19, 2012; Source: Forbes

Mario Morino, the chairman of nonprofit Venture Philanthropy Partners, spoke last week to an audience of nonprofit leaders at the National Human Services Assembly. Writing for the Forbes website, Rick Wartzman’s take on the event is titled, “Three Things Business Leaders Should Do to Help the Nonprofit Sector—Before It’s Too Late.” The Forbes article first covers Morino’s challenge to the nonprofit sector (see related NPQ content here): to prepare for a turbulent future and reinvent themselves to better generate demonstrable, meaningful outcomes. The article also urges corporate executives to respond to Morino’s three-part challenge to the private sector. Finally, it compares Morino’s recommendations with those of late management and nonprofit advisor Peter Drucker, starting with Drucker’s assertion that “a healthy business cannot exist in a sick society.”

Morino’s corporate challenges are interesting not only in what they include but also in what they omit. The three key things that business executives should do for nonprofits, according to Morino, are:

  • Offer expertise and counsel to nonprofits—for example, by leading strategic planning sessions for nonprofits such as what was done for the nonprofit KaBoom! by a top soft drink company executive.
  • Provide mentoring and fellowship opportunities for nonprofit leaders to learn from the best performing corporate units.
  • Be a visible activist for nonprofits that are effective and impactful. In Morino’s words, “Those who have a big voice have a big opportunity to speak up on behalf of allocating funding based on merit and reason—not on blind loyalty or faith.”

Drucker would agree with these recommendations, with the caveat that corporations should also respect nonprofit management talents through peer exchanges for cross-sector learning. But what’s sorely missing from the mix of recommendations is the role of corporate America and its individual leaders to provide direct financial support and policy advocacy for the sector.{loadmodule mod_banners,Newswire Subscription Plea}

This may be because corporate leaders subscribe to Drucker’s view of corporate responsibility: “Management has a self-interest in a healthy society, even though the cause of society’s sickness is none of management’s making.” While much of Drucker’s management advice is timeless, this view seems quaint at best in the context of the sustained national financial crisis and Wall Street’s role. Furthermore, it may be because they believe that nonprofit “reinvention,” as described by Morino, will result in more efficient nonprofits that will meet society’s needs with less money. Finally, perhaps the health of the nonprofit sector is not top of mind at all for corporate sector leaders jostling for market position.

What do you think is reasonable to ask of today’s business leaders? What would you pledge in return? –Kathi Jaworski

  • Loretta Prescott

    I agree that these three points are important, but they leave out the most important piece to nonprofits today- financial support. There will NEVER be a world where nonprofits will be able to meet needs with less, if only because needs continue to grow. And sure, a check for unrestricted funds is a great thing to have in your hand if you are the Director of a nonprofit, but there are other ways to lend a money hand:
    – Do a campaign at your company and allow the nonprofit to show up and make a presenation. Then for the month, let the employees allocate part of their pay to that nonoprofit if they choose. Your employees will learn about 12 nonprofits this year and they will have the satisfaction of helping people in thier community.
    – Dedicate a portion of profits each year to charitable giving and put together a panel of employees to deicde where it goes. Then let them decide how to learn more about the nonrpfotis, like arranging a tours, attending events, bringing in Development Directors to speak, etc.
    – Allow your employees to have a certian number of ours each year that theyget paid for to give to a nonprofit as a volunteer. A good Development DIrector witll convert them into donors.
    – Send your managers out to find a Board position at local nonprofits. The only restriction is that no two can be at the same one. Again, a good DD will bring these fish in as donors and create advocates in the process.

  • Marcela Valdez

    The Nonprofit sector has benefited from successful business practices in the recent years. Although as the third sector adopts business-like approaches, there will always be opponents to this trend arguing that the nonprofit sector is becoming professionalized-as if it was a bad thing!

    Additionally, I agree with Mr. Morino that business leaders should give back to the communities where they live or where their business operate by offering their professional expertise and know-how to local nonprofits. Because at the end of the day what it counts is any kind of support not only monetary. 🙂

    Marcela Valdez

  • Mario Morino

    My thanks to Kathi Jaworski for her comments.

    Rick Wartzman captured quite well my comments from a speech I gave at a board meeting Rick attended. In that speech and in the book (leapofreason.org) upon which it is built, I do challenge the nonprofit sector to achieve greater social impact. But I do so with the respect and admiration that courageous nonprofit leaders justly deserve.

    I agree that corporate America has, with notable exceptions, not done enough to support a healthy society. But in my view, corporate leaders could do the most good for our sector by doing two things: 1) investing strategically with their dollars and their intellect to encourage and reward courageous leaders who strive for mission-based high performance; and 2) use their “big voices” to speak out and advocate for merit-based funding.– Mario Morino