When COVID-19 hit this past spring, corporations as well as individuals sprang into action to respond to immediate needs. From PPE for healthcare workers, to technology for children who had to suddenly switch to virtual school, to basic food needs for unemployed families, the response was truly unprecedented. According to a Benevity Labs Special Report on COVID-19 Relief, more than 500 companies and 450,000 of their people drove $640 million in donations for crisis funding, as well as provided support through volunteering, small acts of goodness and corporate grants to 79,000 global causes in the eight weeks between March 1 and April 30.
Thankfully, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been well positioned to quickly respond to the crisis in the 40 countries we operate in globally. While we recognize that we are fortunate to be able to provide this kind of uninterrupted and increased support, our ability to address emergency needs as well as ongoing pre-COVID needs is not a coincidence. It is the result of long standing, trusted corporate funding partnerships developed over time, and built on trust and mutual understanding. As a result, we were not put in the position of funding immediate needs at the expense of long-term concerns.
But for many community nonprofits, funding has dried up completely, or has come up short, forcing them to make tough choices between pandemic-driven needs or ongoing lifesaving programs in the areas of child protection, health and hygiene programs and education. This does not need to be the case. Strong nonprofit-private sector relationships have the potential to ensure the long-term viability of nonprofits. Not only that, they can also help ensure a purpose-driven workplace culture for corporations, boosting engagement, morale and rallying employees around a common goal.
Following are the lessons we’ve learned over the years, and most recently during the COVID-19 crisis, about what it takes to ensure ongoing crisis funding for community nonprofits at a time of dire need.
Having extra incentives in place is important to activate and engage employees to support crisis funding. While many companies already have some sort of matching program in place to encourage employee donations, an effective way to increase engagement is to double or triple corporate matching funds for a contained period of time. We know that when employers provide extra matching funds, it not only boosts employee giving, but also has the benefit of boosting employees’ trust and commitment to their employer. For example, Benevity’s engagement study found a reduction in employee turnover by 57 percent for those most deeply connected to their companies’ giving and volunteering efforts.
In the midst of an emergency response, the most effective and impactful way a corporate partner can support an NGO’s work is to provide flexible funding that allows organizations to plug in resources where they are most needed, on a moment’s notice. Crises, by their very nature, make it hard for nonprofits to plan for what funds they will need or how they will use them. Quite understandably, corporate grant programs typically come with a laundry list of stipulations and requirements, with the good intention of making sure funding is used effectively. But during times of crisis, when a surge in crisis funding typically gets diverted to institutions handling immediate needs, many nonprofits suffer and struggle with things as simple as paying the electricity bill. Flexible and fast funding is key at times like this. IRC’s relationship with Tripadvisor is a great example of this: The relationship was built over time and serves as a model for why corporations should look at long term funding relationships when evaluating the nonprofit sector.
Of course, dispensing funds quickly also requires that companies have the right technology in place to make quick, flexible, funding decisions, and deliver the much needed crisis funding efficiently.
In addition to cash donations, which are fundamental to a nonprofit’s ability to act and cannot be replaced, another way for corporations to provide support to their partners is to loan skilled staff. Added capacity and expertise can benefit organizations tremendously. While COVID-19 has caused a pause in many in-person volunteering opportunities, it has also given birth to many creative ways to support nonprofits virtually. For example, preventing the flood of misinformation that surrounds the COVID-19 crisis is a critical need for front line workers. Partnering with nonprofits to share technical and marketing expertise such as educating healthcare professionals and setting up websites and apps with educational content are important activities that can be done remotely.
Several of these trade situations were critical to our success during COVID-19. Signpost, a platform that provides crucial information to refugees and displaced communities through service maps, social media, websites and WhatsApp, was created in partnership by the IRC with collaboration and support from corporate partners like Google.org, Twilio, Microsoft, Box, Tripadvisor and Cisco. And delivery company Postmates has donated delivery credits to communities in the U.S., so that refugees can order essential items and groceries safely. Additionally, Tripadvisor launched a “Hotels for Health” program and AirBnB partnered with the IRC and other nonprofits with a new global initiative to provide free or subsidized housing for 100,000 COVID-19 responders.
In the COVID era many proven and longstanding strategies for in person fundraising and awareness building activities such as concerts, runs and galas, have been sidelined due to distancing measures. So, this is a time to get creative and work with corporate partners to brainstorm ways they can tap your unique business resources throughout the whole company, and partner and customer ecosystem to lend support. Recently, Humble Bundle, a digital storefront for video games, leveraged their large customer fanbase and platform to raise over $5 million for IRC and other partners as part of a promotional sale supporting charity. And Sotheby’s and Google hosted a unique online auction for a set of experiences with influencers and celebrities that can be experienced remotely over Google Meet, with 100 percent of the purchase price and buyer’s premium from the auction supporting IRC’s COVID-19 response in Europe and in the U.S.
If your company hasn’t already identified community nonprofits that you give special attention to, now is the time. There’s no place like home, so while there will always be causes that become top of mind based on what’s happening in the world around us, look at the landscape of your community’s needs: Which nonprofits play a critical role supporting your community? Which complement your company’s expertise and your employees’ values? Which nonprofits are critical to support the secondary needs that arise after a crisis is over? Consider forming a special relationship with those nonprofits and committing to ongoing support of them through a variety of the techniques we’ve discussed and through others that you can determine together.
Corporations leading the way to develop strong, trusting, long term relationships with NGOs are crucial to the health and survival of nonprofits who cannot exist based on short term, one-time cash infusions. Adequate funding also supports nonprofits’ ability to track and measure the impact of their work, which in turn, creates an environment of trust and transparency where these relationships can continue. When corporate-nonprofit partnerships work, the benefits multiply. Nonprofits are better positioned to address the needs of those impacted most by a crisis, while being more secure about their ability to serve their communities for the long term. At the same time, corporations can exponentially increase the power and impact of their support for crisis funding, while also providing their people with more opportunities to engage in purpose-driven action.
Without flexible funding from our corporate partners, for example, IRC would not have been able to provide healthcare for pregnant women and newborns in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya while also working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In Jordan, we would have had to choose between addressing COVID-19 and working with local clinics and pharmacies to ensure that medicines are still being delivered to those in need in the Azraq and Zaatari camps. And in places like Nigeria and Yemen, where famine is a major issue, IRC would possibly have had to put on hold programs to treat severely malnourished children. Fortunately, we didn’t have to make any of those choices.
When corporations and nonprofits are strategic and thoughtful about how they partner together to launch and boost crisis funding, both sides are stronger, more successful and better equipped to act both in the short and long term with purpose.
Image credit: Capri23auto/Pixabay
Shannon Paz is a longtime advocate of partnerships to advance the work of critical nonprofits. Having spent 8 years at the International Rescue Committee, most recently as Associate Director, Employee Engagement for Global Corporate Partnerships, she is passionate about mobilizing the private sector for causes including women's empowerment and community health.