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