We'll discuss investing in nonprofits. Thatís right -- investing in nonprofits. But not in the ordinary sense of investing. In todayís environment, corporate chairs and CEOs face a complex challenge in communicating their message and keeping their employees, customers, and stakeholders focused. Iím sure many of you recall Abraham Lincolnís telling words,
"You can make some of the people happy all of the time. You can make all of the people happy some of the time. But you canít make all the people happy all the time."†With so many publics, many of whom overlap or even conflict, taking a stand often means you take the heat for making the decision, any decision.
Wouldnít it be wonderful if you had a tool which could align your employees with your corporate mission? Or how about a tool which could provide more favorable media
exposure? And how about a tool which could develop future markets without the heavy upfront expense and long-term investment necessary to fend off your competitors?
Investing in nonprofits is that powerful tool.
It connects your corporation with your current and future customers -- translating into profitability.†It builds
goodwill -- translating into profitability
and alignment with your mission.
And it speaks to the character of your corporation -- through deeds based on your corporate mission rather than words merely based on next quarterís projections. That needs no translation. So letís take a look at three key elements you must consider before you give the decision to go
ahead. They are: relevance of investment; full focus on the nonprofit; and the low-key promotional approach.
First, your investment, your support, must be relevant.
Why? A relevant investment makes sense in peopleís minds -- they wonít question your
intent. Irrelevant support looks as if youíre
trying to advertise for customers. Or worse, as if youíre trying to pull a public relations trick off on the public. I emphasize trying, because a relevant investment looks like a natural fit. In irrelevant investments, your intent is too obvious, and people know it immediately. Youíll generate negative goodwill, or distrust
of, your company. Now, not only have you lost your investment. It has become a debt that will cost you customers, sales, and profits -- for years to come.† Hereís a hypothetical example. Years ago, a super
oil tanker named the Exxon Valdez ran aground in the pristine waters of Alaska.. Imagine the Exxon Corporation quickly reacting by supporting the Nature program on public television, with a statement at the beginning of the Nature program that Exxon is committed to providing natural energy resources for our growing global needs while preserving our natural
heritage. I wouldnít buy that. Would you? I didnít think so. What does work?
In the past, I helped the Honolulu Symphony. United Airlines was sponsoring a concert series where one of the concerts featured music from George
Gershwin, and included his piece called Rhapsody in Blue, the same United Airlines was using as its theme on television commercials. Of course, United picked Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue. But their promotions did not point to that behind-the-scenes
Cute, smart, and done without blatant self-promotion. More people associated upscale markets, symphonic music,
Gershwin, and Rhapsody in Blue with United. The goodwill generated from their investment increased corporate travel accounts and revenues. And since the Symphony audience had many corporate
decision makers, it was a relevant target AND a relevant promotion.
Another example of what does work is more general in nature. Today, you can find statements on products that a fixed portion of revenues, usually a percentage such as 2%, is donated to a specific organization, such as The American Red Cross or a category such as nature preservation. The corporation links themselves to a identity other than just the product manufacturer or service provider.
For example, instead of, "They make fruit juices," people recognize that "theyíre the guys whoíve been providing free meals to low-income school children." With relevant support, you will build goodwill. Before people find out what your corporation sells. So they begin with a favorable first impression. And as the expression goes,
"You donít get a second chance to make a first impression."
If your investment support must be relevant, it also must be fully focused on that
nonprofit. Itís a gift to the nonprofit-- not a business
And gifts are given with no strings attached.
Unlike a business transaction in which a seller sells a computer system and the buyer gives the seller a lump sum check for $1 million, the benefits that come about from a nonprofit investment trickle in over
time. Managed correctly, the value of that trickle of benefits can be greater than the $1 million lump
sum. And thatís the idea. Yet the main focus should be on giving rather than the receiving. The goodwill generated is what your corporation gains in return. And goodwill is the trust that brings customers back to buy again, to tell their friends and family about their positive experiences -- even to defend the corporation when the
product or corporation is brought into question.
Remember the beer commercial: "Tastes great! Less filling"? Thatís what you want from your customers when they defend your corporationís products. A good starting point for you would be to review your corporate mission statement to see why it exists and who it
serves. In interpreting who it serves, extend that definition to those in the nonprofit communities and find a match. That will make viewing investing as a gift much easier, since the investment will go to those it already serves as a business.
If selecting the right nonprofits to invest in is essential to receiving a return on your investment; and if focusing on
benefiting the nonprofit starts that return streaming in...
...then how you let the world know about your investment is our final focus.
The low-key approach is the strongest.
Be aware: The low-key approach does take patience -- and courage. Itís similar to implementing a culture change or redefining a corporate mission. Only much, much
faster! Remember, the return on your investment trickles in over time like interest on money in the bank, rather than all at once up front like selling a blouse or a pair of pants in a retail store. Setting the tone starts from the beginning, in the cover letter confirming the investment contribution following your conversation with the nonprofitís executive director: †
|Dear Ms. Hardy:
The XYZ Corporation is proud to play a small part in supporting the American Red Cross.
Please accept our check for $5,000 to help your fine organization continue its good works.
Further the process by announcing your investment in a rollout -- first to employees
-- then to customers and vendors -- any other stakeholders, such as investors and analysts -- and finally to the general public.
Promote your nonprofit in your various corporate communications, always focusing on elevating the nonprofitís presence rather than your own. For example, in your print ad with the wording
"XYZ Corporation supports The Life Foundation," put the phrase XYZ Corporation in smaller print and make The Life Foundation logo bigger.
Be an active and strong supporter of your nonprofit
-- a partner -- seeking to increase its exposure where you can. Just remember: By honoring the nonprofit, others will honor you.
Corporate investing in nonprofits can be a powerful and enriching experience. It fuels the nonprofit with the byproduct of the corporation: cash. It generates new business for both the corporation and the
nonprofit. It builds trust quickly-- perhaps even quicker than by selling reliable products backed by quality and excellent service
alone. And in making the decision to invest, your investment will serve you as a quiet reminder that serving others is the highest calling of mankind.
I hope you will consider investing in a nonprofit organization. Why not make it an agenda item for your next board of directors
meeting? And if it does sound like a good idea for your organization, there is no time like the present. A present to give to the future. By starting the process today.