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Businesses and Social Good: It Takes Work to Make it Work

It has become trendy to do social good. Everyone is getting in on the act. This includes the business world. However, businesses doing social good is not a new idea. Think of the Ronald McDonald House or Target’s give back program. What is new is the number of businesses that are beginning to participate. Some companies, like Tom’s Shoes, have begun masterfully. Other companies and nonprofits have not been able to create meaningful partnerships and giving opportunities. As a nonprofit professional, I have followed this topic closely. So when I learned about Manifest Digital’s Insight Labs led by Jeff Leitner, I was intrigued. This think tank brings together corporate and business leaders for a 3 hour conversation with a government agency or nonprofit to work on an issue or problem. I was invited by Jeff to participate in a session so that I could blog about it afterwards.

The session I attended was with Genesis at the Crossroads. Their request was that the group work on the idea of converting fans into supporters. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Jeff went around and introduced each person. Some of the most innovative and successful people from Chicago’s business community were in that room.

I have struggled to write this post for six weeks. With that much brainpower in the room, I expected there to be some very sophisticated solutions for Genesis. The conversation was interesting and there was some great input on the value of telling the right story with the right voice. And the concept of, “You can’t destroy and create at the same time.” was a discovery that has some wonderful implications for a nonprofit trying to convey why making music in conflict zones is important. However, I am not convinced any of it will make a real difference in the impact of Genesis. The founder could have gotten the same information at a coffee shop with some fellow nonprofit professionals. It was a really interesting conversation, but I’m not sure that the participants felt that they had done anything terribly important. And without that piece, they are less likely to want to do more.

I really like this idea of businesses getting involved with nonprofits and social good. I think it makes everyone better. But this involvement is still in its infancy and there is much more that needs to be learned in order to optimize this connection. To truly make this a valuable proposition, I think there should be much more conversation between nonprofits and businesses to learn about each other and about what each stands to gain from these relationships. There will be many attempts at this engagement. But until there is some real conversation, negotiation and learning that shapes this engagement, it will look more like wheels of a car spinning on a snowy day than something important and significant taking place.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the honest and reflective post. I agree with your assessment that there are differences in expertise among professionals in different fields and that the nonprofit and business community need to talk to one another more to understand exactly how business expertise can inform nonprofit work. I would also like to suggest that the conversation should go both ways Businesses could benefit from the expertise of nonprofits, particularly on issues like hiring people who are immigrants or have developmental disabilities, dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence in the workplace, and hiring chronically unemployed workers.

    When we talk about silo’s, we so often talk about organizations or institutions. I think we also have sectoral silos in which segments of our business, government, and nonprofit community are unaware of one another. In having these conversations, I believe that we’re beginning to break through these walls. At this point however, I do believe it is a one-sided, though not unproductive, affair.

    1. I think you are spot on Jason, on so many issues. The conversation definitely needs to be 2 way. I think business has a sense that nonprofits have nothing to teach them. But I know for example, that there is a big push in training and experiential learning/informal education in the business sector. We’ve been doing that in the nonprofit sector for years. I also think there is a sense in the nonprofit community, that the business world is just too removed from the nonprofits to really have any relevant insights. Both are really not accurate. I also think this conversation about doing social good, regardless of sector, begins to break down the silos a bit. Start Some Good has pushed this conversation forward a bit.

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