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3 Ways Businesses Can Help Struggling Nonprofits

By 3p Contributor

By Joe Waters

How would you like to be in PBS’ or Meals on Wheels’ shoes right now?

These two organizations alone stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in funding if U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget passes. Many other nonprofits face funding cuts as well. Those not yet affected by cutbacks are scared they’ll be next.

Earlier this month at Georgetown University’s New Strategies Program, a revenue-generation program for nonprofits, attendees shared their biggest fear: a perfect storm of budget cuts and economic bumps that would sink their organizations. In my years teaching in the program, I have never had a group so desperate to explore new and improved ways to raise money.

Many participants viewed businesses as a key area of opportunity. With a record-high stock market and profits booming at many companies, participants were bullish on targeting local and national companies.

New Strategies founder and co-director Curt Weeden was more bearish.

“Traditional ‘checkbook donations’ from companies have dropped dramatically over the past generation from over 2 percent to now just 0.70 percent of pretax earnings,” Weeden told the group.

Still, business support for nonprofits is needed now more than ever. And nonprofits can’t wait another generation for corporate giving to rebound. How can businesses step up right now to support the missions of worthy organizations?

Here are three suggestions.

1. Let employees in on the purpose…

Too often corporate giving is siloed in a particular department or in the C-suite. Business leaders need to share their purpose-related goals with employees to magnify social impact and fundraising.

Aflac, a generous contributor to causes for many years, grew its social impact exponentially by asking agents to join in the company’s fight against pediatric cancer. Today, Aflac agents contribute more than $500,000 each month from their commission checks to the Aflac Cancer Center in Atlanta.

2. ...Customers too

Involving customers in giving programs can dramatically impact fundraising for good causes. This is true for businesses of all types and sizes. Even businesses that are struggling have succeeded wildly in involving customers in giving programs.

Despite closing over 1,000 stores since 2000, retailer Kmart just crossed the $100 million mark in dollars raised for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In 2015 alone, Kmart raised $17.5 million for the hospital.

The top customer fundraisers have raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Engage for Good identified 77 fundraisers that raised at least $1 million by asking consumers to make a gift, round up their sale, contribute their change or feature their names on “pin-ups” (placards and paper icons put on display). Together, these programs raised nearly $400 million.

Expanding and deepening these consumers fundraisers could ease nonprofit fears and help with shortfalls.

3. Harness corporate dollars for the power of stakeholder giving

Instead of cutting checks to nonprofits from the corporate checkbook, companies should invest the contributions budget in employee and customer fundraisers that can double or even triple fundraising.  

Microsoft employees raised a record $142 million in 2016 thanks to a company culture that encourages employee fundraisers and matches donations up to $15,000. Volunteer time is also rewarded. For every hour employees give to volunteer work, Microsoft donates $25.

Instead of buying ads in last month’s Super Bowl, Southern California Honda Dealers created the Helpful Bowl. The program donated money to Boys and Girls Clubs every time viewers identified a Super Bowl ad with an advertising cliche. In addition to building a stronger connection with car owners, SoCal Honda Dealers raised over $300,000 for charity.

The bottom line

Companies are skilled at making investments that deliver a high ROI. Marketing and philanthropy dollars will deliver a better return and a bigger impact when they’re invested in stakeholder engagement.

Businesses are well positioned to quickly help nonprofits. They have the marketing muscle, the stakeholders and the technology to start a fire that will light the way for causes in what may be their darkest hour.

Photo via SLR Jester on Flickr

Joe Waters shows businesses and nonprofits how to build win-win partnerships that raise money and change the world. Visit him at Selfishgiving.com.

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