Should nonprofits ever "donate" knowledge and skills to corporations?
Assuming we know what we are doing and that we are doing it well, we as NGOs have knowledge and skills valuable to the corporate sector. Many of us have been thrilled that large global companies have taken our calls and come to our meetings and listened to us. In fact, we have been so overjoyed by this that some of us have helped these corporations for free. Why?
Let us first look back and recall how public funding to the NGO sector took a nose dive after the financial collapse in 2008-2009. Globally, several hundreds of thousands of NGOs evaporated as a result, because they were too heavily reliant on public grants. Tax money. Since then, most public grants come with a longer list of reporting requirements, shorter spending terms and even heavier earmarking than before. This incapacitates small NGOs with tiny back office structures and it shrinks the strategic long-term maneuverability of most nonprofits.
For this reason, and many others, we should all indeed try to move the corporate sector towards taking a greater social responsibility. Corporate partnerships are a platform for shared values, they are key for social innovation and educating the public through employees and customers. Particularly relevant are sectors where the “social footprint” is large; footprints where companies have production, products or services that negatively impacts social indicators, or worse where these products or services are being abused.
These sectors can and should make a difference in terms of social preventive investment – before contributing to the mainstream marketable charitable causes, many of which have a weak or a nonexistent link to the corporates’ core businesses. It is our job to move sectors and companies to invest in themselves; companies must be prepared to invest and NGOs should not give away knowledge and skills for free.
Why? Because free is perceived as less valued. Free means no accountability in the corporate hierarchy and few, if any, report on free support and advice. If something has value it has a price.
If an NGO can make a company invest a million dollar on a long-term social investment plan, there is both reporting required and accountability implied. There are monitoring and evaluations and suddenly, people are held responsible to ensure that the investment, albeit a social one, contributes to sustainable development and, as such, hopefully the growth of the business.
Consequently, social issues will have a much greater impact and chance of becoming part and parcel of the corporates’ core reporting that addresses economic, environmental and social challenges. With the right scale and scope there will be opportunities to contribute to sustainable development.
That is also when shareholders get a better sense of if a company’s marketing around CSR actually matches its audited record. That is when consumers have a fair chance of making informed choices – not based on social marketing, but because they can compare apples and apples within one sector. We can see who is for real and who is not.
Several great examples of social and profitable investment exist. There is therefore no reason why nonprofits should help for-profits pro bono. With a changing landscape for funding the social sector, NGOs should not, on their own dime raised from individual contributions, funders or government tax grants, assist already profitable corporates. Assuming of course, that we as NGOs know what we are doing.