Worcester Telegram & Gazette
November 25, 2012
By Brian Boyd
While nonprofit groups want to tap the resources of the private sector, many have a difficult time getting their foot in the door with busy corporate leaders.
Although many organizations know which companies they want to target, half of the Massachusetts organizations that participated in a recent survey said they find the hardest part is making the initial contact with the company.
More than a third of survey respondents rated “identifying how businesses will benefit from partnering with my organization” as one aspect at which they are least effective, according to a news release on the survey.
“Nonprofits and corporations have to work closer together,” said John Hailer, president and chief executive officer of Natixis Global Asset Management — The Americas and Asia, a co-sponsor of the survey.
Nonprofit leaders need to go beyond just describing their mission to business people, Mr. Hailer said. They must show how a partnership can also engage the company’s employees and improve their corporate culture; charitable work can bring employees closer together as they collaborate on a common cause, he said.
For their part, corporate executives should be open to stronger relations with nonprofit groups and understand how charity benefits both the companies and their communities, Mr. Hailer said.
Natixis, a global asset management company headquartered in Boston and Paris, supports social service charities. Its philanthropic approach includes giving employees a day off to give back to the community, he said.
The company decided to sponsor the survey after hearing about the challenges their nonprofit partners face. The survey was based on the online responses of 103 nonprofit organizations from across the state.
Some corporations have shifted their thinking on philanthropy. Some companies want to move beyond the traditional approach, where business leaders simply cut a check and consider their work done, said Rick Jakious, chief executive of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.
Corporate partners are interested in contributing their time and knowledge to charitable endeavors, and nonprofit organizations need to show companies how both sides can benefit from a partnership, Mr. Jakious said.
“They want to know how can you put their skills and talent to use, either by engaging their employees or having members of their staff serve on your board of directors,” he said.
David Waters, chief executive officer of Community Servings Inc., one of the nonprofits surveyed, said he was not surprised by the results. He said companies face a barrage of nonprofits seeking their support.
“It’s hard to engage corporations, because there are many human services groups going to the well,” Mr. Waters said. “Also, corporate people are very busy, so how you engage them and how easy you make it for them to get involved often determines your success.”
Community Servings delivers specially prepared meals to people with illnesses who cannot shop or cook for themselves. The meals are tailored to their specific medical needs. The organization is based in Boston and expanded to Worcester six weeks ago, he said.
Based on his organization’s experience with corporations, Mr. Waters said if a nonprofit approaches a company with different ways for its staff to get involved, rather than just asking for money, it will more likely get a positive result.
From a company’s perspective, philanthropic partnerships provide opportunities to build up their brand in the community and create positive word of mouth, Mr. Jakious said.
At the same time, corporate sponsors are more interested in seeing results that nonprofit organizations can quantify, he said.
Asked how nonprofit leaders can break the ice with company executives, Mr. Jakious said business leaders often travel in the same circles, attending chamber of commerce meetings and events for other nonprofit groups, and some companies have specific staff members given the task of working on corporate philanthropy goals.
The financial services industry was the top contributor to the nonprofits surveyed in the study.
A large majority of the nonprofits, 86 percent, received some support from banks, insurance companies and other financial service businesses. The next most common sector for corporate support was the health care industry (47 percent), followed by the construction and development industries (35 percent), according to the results.
The economy isn’t making it easier to forge corporate partnerships.
More than a third of the organizations reported that their funding decreased over the last year. On the positive side, though, more than half of the organizations said corporate funding has remained steady or increased, according to the survey.
Moreover, the difficult economy ensures there will be a need for nonprofit programs that help the less fortunate, Mr. Hailer added.
“The needs are going to be greater for the next few years,” he said.