Partnering for Change: Learning Together to Make a Bigger Impact

Thursday, February 20, 2014
by Nick Collins, Executive Coordinator, Philanthropy New York
Since its inception, the Service for Impact working group has grown considerably, with members of both Philanthropy New York and CECP participating. This working group reflects a growing commitment from corporations locally and nationally to invest in long-term volunteer programs and build relationships with their communities. Corporations and community-based organizations are collectively forging a stronger partnership in order to maximize their impact and meet the business and societal goals of both partners. To this end, corporations continue to be enthusiastic about learning effective volunteer engagement strategies, drawing from the principles of Reimagining Service, and sharing best practices to learn what they must do to truly make a difference.
Over the last year, the working group participants have shared through peer discussion their commitment to developing long-term relationships with community-based organizations. In order to make significant impact, it is important to invest time and means in finding a good fit, like in any pairing. Gail Gershon, Director of Employee Engagement at Gap Inc., who co-facilitates the Service for Impact meetings, shares Gap’s approach, articulated in the company’s “Change the World Toolkit,” of encouraging corporate community leaders and nonprofit organizations to “date” before finding their longstanding partner. This process in turn helps corporations determine their objective as a core strategic function and harmonize their employees’ volunteering aspirations. The process results in finding a good fit with a community organization and an alignment of goals between both parties.
In our recent working group session, a prominent New York community organization shared insights from the nonprofit perspective, indicating that strategic volunteering can bring a real boost to community-based programs in terms of labor, but more importantly in terms of motivation through collaborating on the attainment of common goals. But community organizations have also highlighted some of the challenges of building a partnership with a corporation. Alignment of goals and interests aside, flexibility and communication remain areas of difficulty. On occasion, expectations on either side are not met during a project, paving the way for better communication ahead of time in future collaborations. Additionally, understanding what is “mission critical” to the organization can help prevent any feelings of futility on the part of the volunteers.
So, with all this in mind, what are the possible takeaways and how can Reimagining Service continue to play its part? The Service for Impact working group provides an ongoing forum for an increasing number of corporations to come together and share their experience, but also inspire each other to continue building their programs to collectively make a bigger impact in our communities. Corporations are developing their volunteer programs as a core function of their overall mission statement and as truly indicative of their own organizational effectiveness and values. As corporations and nonprofits reflect on their collective experiences, it has become clear that, in order to reach its full potential, the impact of volunteering must stem from a solid mutual understanding of need versus capacity. In addition, aligning both expectations and goals can provide a true path to making the biggest impact and meeting the biggest needs — which are, safe to say, the primary goals for all involved!