Category Archives: Problem Solving

Three Corporate/Social Sector Partnership Conversations I’m Having Right Now

By Diane Knoepke, Vice President, The Alford Group

 

Over just the past few months, we have been the beneficiaries of an absolute embarrassment of riches in terms of high-powered convenings and insight-filled reports related to corporate/social sector collaboration and investment. I dare say we are seeing an unprecedented level of research and conversation about the role of companies in driving social sector outcomes and vice versa. While digesting it all can feel like sipping from a firehose, I’m finding that so many of my partnership conversations right now are coming back to three themes, all of which are supported and driven by these great insights coming from all corners of the corporate social innovation and philanthropic worlds.

#1 Heightened consumer expectations, and how companies are responding

Sixty percent (60%) of Americans now expect companies to play a greater role in society, particularly given the new administration. Tina-Marie Adams, Midwest Managing Director of APCO Worldwide, shared this data point at last month’s Social Innovation Summit, drawn from research her firm had recently completed. This is further borne out by data from Cone Communications’ 2017 CSR Study, which found that “millennials are putting their faith in companies to ignite change,” with 71% of millennials hopeful that business will take the lead (compared to U.S. average of 63%). Continue reading

Optics Matter: Avoiding Red Flags that Undermine Your Fundraising Efforts

By Amy Hines, Senior Vice President, The Alford Group

With the start of an unprecedented intergenerational wealth transfer, not-for-profits have a lot to gain by avoiding any inadvertent pitfalls that deter potential donors from contributing to their efforts. With access to the internet, donors do not have to rely on government scrutiny to avoid unscrupulous charities (Besides, government entities have limited authority as watchdogs). Donors can look for evidence themselves, vetting charities with a tap or a click.

Maintaining integrity is key—but ensuring that an organization’s optics convey that integrity is also essential.

A potential donor’s due diligence before opening her wallet, is likely to take place by heeding to the credo–“follow the money.” While that may in fact be just a line in a movie, it resonates in the philanthropic ether as a sound way to approach investigating an organization’s worthiness.

How do potential donors assess the money trail? There are several logical ways:

  1. Look at the organization’s website to see if financial information is being reported in a transparent way.
  2. Go online to GuideStar, the primary resource for accessing an organization’s IRS 990 and comparing similar organizations.
  3. Go online to Charity Navigator to see how the organization is rated.
  4. Go online to BBB Wise Giving, to check out whether they have been accredited as a trustworthy national organization.

 

It’s important for not-for-profits to manage the optics of their organizations in these four locations. Here’s how. Continue reading

Corporate-nonprofit partnerships in the land of impossible expectations

5 must-haves to fortify partnerships against the elements

By Diane Knoepke, Vice President, The Alford Group  Read Diane’s Bio

Almost every company is a good fit for at least a handful of nonprofits, and every company is a bad fit for quite a few nonprofits. The inverse is also true: almost every nonprofit is a good fit for at least a handful of businesses, and every nonprofit is a bad fit for quite a few companies.

With increasingly discerning audiences, a volatile political climate, blurred lines that used to seem bright, and the unprecedented speed of change and information, what must nonprofits and companies do to successfully partner with one another?

How to fortify partnerships against the elements

Any partnership without a little bit of risk is also likely a partnership without any value or interest. Of course, we all know there are good risks and bad risks. Below you will find ways to make sure the risks you take are planned and smart and likely to have great returns. Here are the five must-haves for a successful corporate-nonprofit partnership: Continue reading

Collaboration is Easy to Discuss and Difficult to Do

CollaborationEvery day the news carries another story about the work in Washington, DC to negotiate a deal on the debt limit and serious debt reduction activities.  The issues are familiar – potential spending reductions and potential tax increases.  One side will not budge from its position of no new taxes – and the other will not budge on its position of achieving results with new taxes and limited spending reductions.  We know they need to collaborate to solve this – yet they are providing a good example of what collaboration is not. Over the next few weeks we will discover if they do learn the meaning of the word.

In the meantime, in our own communities, we have the ability to collaborate every day – and yet in the not-for-profit world I tend to see more competition than collaboration.  How can we set an example to work with other not-for-profit organizations that have similar missions, values, and services?  Is there a chance to provide improved services to the community utilizing fewer resources and thus improving efficiencies?  Do organizations ever attempt to discover the answer to these questions?

Continue reading

The Economy in a Stall

Two weeks ago everything seemed bright on the economic horizon with the stock market moving well and unemployment numbers from April looking better and better all the time.  What a difference a fortnight makes.

The news this past week from Wednesday on was not cheerful, and was not bright.  Only 58,000 jobs were created over the month of May, well short of the number required to have impact on the unemployment rate.  It would take gains of 350,000 per month to truly impact the numbers and lower the unemployment rate, which rose to 9.1% nationally due to more people entering the work force and actively looking for work.  There are 7 million fewer people working in our country now, than 2006.  That is a sobering thought.

No wonder there is such a lull in economic activity and no wonder there is such caution in spending on the part of those who are working.

In 1992 I took a position with the Sisters of Providence Health System in Springfield, MA and the unemployment rate in Massachusetts at the time was 11%.  As we planned our fund raising activities, board members (and others) questioned our strategies; I repeatedly mentioned that we were going to focus on the 89% of the people who were working.  During my three years there we increased the number of donors from 600 annually to more than 3,500 annually.

Even now throughout our country, more than 90% of the people are working and being very productive.  They are not spending and they are concerned that they may be laid-off or lose their jobs.  Debt is being reduced (short term debt continues to shrink) and savings is increasing.  Thus the savings rate in America is at an all time high having exceeded the 5% level for 10 consecutive quarters.  Currently there is $2.7 trillion (yes…trillion) in money funds in America earning less than .3% annually.  This does not count savings accounts, checking accounts or short term certificates of deposit (less than 6 months).  There is a tremendous amount of money still sitting on the side lines as people are cautious with their spending.  At the current savings rate, the economy will make a fundamental shift at some time – there will come a moment when we shift from being a nation of consumers to a nation of investors.  But when is the question.

So in this lull, what should you do to support your organization?

  • Stay focused on the needs in the community that your organization is serving
  • Continue to ask for gifts that will change people’s lives
  • Be bold and confident
  • Have a vision for the next 3 to 5 years
  • Demonstrate results and success
  • Seek community endorsements for the good work you are doing
  • Stay close to your donors keeping them informed in a variety of ways
  • And continue to seek philanthropic support – last week 3 donors gave our clients significant 7 figure gifts!

These are difficult times still, but over time the difficulties will pass.  They always have, and they always will.

All the best,

Tom

A Test of Values and Choices

I was in Connecticut last week listening to the radio news while driving between appointments.  It was announced that the state legislature had reached an agreement on the state budget for the next year.  This was accomplished with a few tax increases and plenty of budget reductions.  Choices had to be made and I am sure some of those choices were not easy.  The news reported this morning on the Washington State legislature and the challenges they are facing to close a $5 billion budget gap.  Tomorrow they begin a special session only focused on budget issues.  The mood is such that increased taxes will be out of the question.  (As an aside, last November, voters in Washington State approved a tax rollback of 2 cents per bottle on soft drinks and water that had been approved by the legislature last year.  It seems that voters wanted to pay 2 cents less for their liquid refreshments rather than pay for state services.)  The Washington State legislature, along with many other states, will be making some key choices over the next thirty days, $5 billion worth of choices.

The impact on not-for-profit organizations will be tremendous.  Social services and healthcare will be impacted by all this, causing further reduction to services that have probably already been reduced over the past several years.  Even arts and culture institutions, some of which are closely aligned with state and local governments, will be feeling the budget tightness due to cuts in the funds they receive from government sources.

As a society we are facing choices like never before, and those choices will test what we truly value in life.  Some think Washington State failed the test when they voted to reduce a 2-cents-per-bottle tax rather than pay for needed social services provided by the state.  Others might suggest that this is a time when reductions force these very choices and we learn to make do with what we have and live within our means.

Once these reductions play out in not-for-profit organizations, and they face the same challenges state planners and legislatures are confronting, more choices will have to be made.  If not-for-profits have fewer resources, and they will have fewer resources, how will they spend them to serve their constituents while maintaining excellent services?

Last week on my Connecticut trip I visited with one major not-for-profit facing these choices.  They chose to reduce staff including their fundraising operations.  At a time when financial resources are at a premium, it was surprising to me that reductions were made in fundraising rather than increasing the amount allocated to gathering more resources.  Capital formation is important right now, and one of the least expensive ways to increase capital is to raise it philanthropically.

We all face choices in our lives.  Over the next six months, you may face choices that you haven’t in the past.  How will you respond?

All the best,

Tom