register2012-nostroke
By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on September 30, 2013

Companies do not know how to get involved with our nonprofits. It's not their business; as nonprofits, it is ours. We need to make a concerted effort to develop volunteer opportunities that engage corporate volunteers and their families.

With some 96,000 companies based in Orange County, it makes good business sense for local nonprofits to focus on corporate partnerships.

Likewise, with social responsibility increasingly rising in importance, community involvement makes good corporate sense.

Let's look at this second issue first.

Employees want to see their companies involved. When polled, 7 out of 10 Americans say that if they're picking between two similar jobs, they'll choose to work for companies that support charities.

Furthermore, consumers demand it. More than 4 in 10 consumers say that in the past year they bought a product because it was associated with a cause or issue in the last year. That figure, by the way, has doubled since 1993.

Even executives view nonprofits kindly. Some 66 percent of executives surveyed said their social-responsibility strategies resulted in measurable improvements in reputation.

So the question isn't which companies are involved in our communities; most are. The real question is how do nonprofits build a relationship with companies?

Too often (and too quickly) the answer is to jump in with a request for donations. Chris Jarvis, a corporate volunteer evangelist, suggested that such swift requests for corporate dollars is "like asking for a prenup on the first date."

Instead, when you want to build a relationship with a company, there is one strategy that is recommended repeatedly – start with volunteer projects.

Last year, at a nonprofit training session, Sarah Middleton, vice president of Community Outreach at the bond giant Pimco, noted nonprofits connect to Pimco "by providing volunteer opportunities for our employees."

Diane Killeen, manager of Disney VoluntEARS & Cast Initiatives, also views volunteer-oriented relationships as key.

Disney has an organized group of active, cast-member volunteers. So do Pacific Life – with its Good Guys – Bank of America and Edwards LifeSciences, among many others. Most of the nearly 2,000 Orange County companies with 100 or more employees have programs that encourage employees to volunteer on a regular basis. And many smaller companies also seek ways to engage their employees.

Companies do not know how to get involved with our nonprofits. It's not their business; as nonprofits, it is ours. We need to make a concerted effort to develop volunteer opportunities that engage corporate volunteers and their families.

While there is rarely one right answer in the question of building relationships, you can bank on this one – the way to create a real nonprofit/corporate partnership starts with volunteers.

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