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Corporate Philanthropy: It's Not Just Money That Changes The World

Sometimes there is a better way to help than writing a check.
Corporate Philanthropy: It's Not Just Money That Changes The World
Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images

Most big, established companies recognize the importance of corporate philanthropy. They often give back to their communities and the world through corporate foundations, matching employee donations, sponsoring galas, large-scale volunteer programs and more. Many big companies even have paid staff whose sole focus is overseeing corporate philanthropy efforts or the broader scope of corporate social responsibility.

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But how does a younger, scrappier company without deep pockets do its part to give back? As the COO of one of New York’s largest social services nonprofits, The New York Foundling, I can confidently tell you there are more ways to support nonprofits -- without writing big checks -- than one might think.

1. Give new life to empty space.

If you have open desks or unused office space, consider giving it new life by inviting a small, local nonprofit to join you for a year. By sharing your office, you could be offering a lifeline to a nonprofit that cannot afford something as essential as a proper place to work. For nonprofits, it’s hard to get funding for programming but even harder to find funders willing to help with overhead costs. This has created a crisis for many nonprofits with tight budgets, but also an opportunity for companies to serve a vital need.

For the past year, The New York Foundling, a nearly 150-year-old nonprofit with offices throughout New York City, has hosted She’s the First, a seven-year-old nonprofit, in our Manhattan headquarters. While temporarily sitting untouched by us, our unused office space was a lifesaver for She’s the First. Based on our experience, together we co-founded Adopt a Cause to make it easier to create win-win relationships between companies with excess office space and nonprofits in need of space.

In lieu of rent, nonprofits can help your company through knowledge and services. For example, in exchange for the desk space, technology support, conference space and storage in our offices, She’s the First has provided valuable insight to Foundling employees on topics such as social media, even helping to establish the framework of our first social media campaign. Our collaboration is just one demonstration of the positive and mutually beneficial impact that partnerships such as these can have for participating organizations across the country.

2. Put your skills to good use.

Not every company has empty office space, but everyone has a valuable skill that could be beneficial to others. Take a step back and evaluate the skills that your employees have and how those could translate to skills-based volunteering. For instance, if you run a marketing agency, consider working with a nonprofit to put together a marketing plan or establish a stronger brand identity. Maybe your company has a dedicated team of human resources professionals and could offer to help a small nonprofit establish better hiring and retention strategies or create a coherent compensation system. 

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Nonprofits often lack the resources to tackle business needs that are not essential to directly providing services to their clients. By offering nonprofits pro bono business expertise, you can make a meaningful non-monetary donation that yields results.

3. Sit on a board.

Just as your company can offer a valuable skillset to make a positive impact on a nonprofit, so can you as an entrepreneur. Consider offering up your time and expertise through serving on the board of a charity that is meaningful to you. Whether it is a large national organization or a small local charity, your experience starting, owning and running a business will translate in many ways to the needs of a growing nonprofit. You will likely surprise yourself by the knowledge you are able to pass along.

Board service is usually comprised of a mix of fundraising and governance responsibilities. Start by investigating nonprofits that pique your interest, have a fundraising obligation that is comfortable for you and where you can see your skills complimenting the business and governance needs of the nonprofit. There are many local organizations that assist with board placement opportunities in their communities (such as BoardAssist in the New York area) and national organizations that provide board matching services such as Bridgespan and BoardnetUSA.

4. Plan a volunteer day.

No matter what line of business you are in, you have at least one thing that nonprofits desperately need -- able bodies to lend a helping hand. Contact charities in your area to see what type of help they need and how your employees can donate their time in a way that is truly meaningful to the nonprofit. Whether that is walking shelter dogs, stuffing and mailing donor packets, serving food to the homeless or reading to patients at a children’s hospital, there are hundreds of ways for your company to give back in a hands-on, impactful way. It is remarkable the amount of good that can be done simply by showing up when and where you are needed. Not only will this have a positive impact on the nonprofit, but volunteering can also have a beneficial effect on employee morale while serving as a tangible representation of your company’s commitment to giving back.

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Not only is corporate philanthropy the right thing to do, it can also be a strong morale booster for employees and a source of employee development. Having the privilege to work at a nonprofit, I witness the multiple positive effects of corporate philanthropy every day. This past year, as the co-founder of Adopt a Cause I’ve been especially cognizant of how companies can contribute in vital ways to nonprofits without dollars ever changing hands. Something as simple as providing free workspace can have game changing effects for nonprofits.

The size of your corporate bank account doesn’t correlate to the positive change you can bring about in the communities in which you work and live. Be resourceful about what your company has to offer and remember that every little bit of good you put out into the world does matter.