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Imagine Canada

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Priceless: Corporate Support Beyond the Cheque

Thursday, December 5, 2013
Grant Seeker Monthly

When it comes to corporate relationships, it’s no longer just about the money. As we’ve highlighted in a previous blog post, the last decade has seen corporate giving evolve. Now more than ever, companies are pursuing long-term philanthropic relationships to bring about positive changes in their host communities, and concrete business results have become surprisingly low priorities for giving. According to the 2013 Canadian Corporate Community Investment Benchmarking Report, company culture and reputation are among the most important motivations for community investment, whereas factors more closely connected to the business bottom line score lower. Transformational rather than transactional, this kind of corporate philanthropy ensures everyone wins: the charity, the business, and ultimately the community.

At Imagine Canada, we’re all about best practices and seeing examples of charities putting them to work. That’s why we were excited to chat with Teresa Pring, Executive Director at Habitat for Humanity Mid-Vancouver Island, about their experience with mutually beneficial corporate relationships.

“When I came to Habitat 7 years ago, we were [building] one home every two years,” Teresa tells us. Next year, they are targeted to build three, and Teresa credits Habitat Mid Vancouver Island’s corporate relationships as an integral part of their growing success: “we are building up our capacity by building up the relationships corporate-wise within our community, within our board, and within our committees.”

All aboard

Businesses – whether a mom and pop shop or a large corporation that employs 40% of a small town – help weave the fabric of our communities. They are hugely influential and have extensive networks. For this reason alone, it’s important for you to consider whether your board of directors has representation from the local business community.

When Habitat Mid-Vancouver Island went through their strategic planning process a couple of years ago, they took a hard look at their board makeup. (Teresea describes her board as a hybrid of operational and governance.) “We had to look at ourselves and assess ourselves: where are the short falls and what do we need?” For Habitat, their board members now include a lawyer who provides legal advice in an unofficial capacity, a realtor who helps assess property purchases, an individual from the banking management world that provides sound financial advice, and an instructor at a pre-apprenticeship carpentry and trades program who brings carpentry students to assist on various builds.

Not only does this diverse board ensure that the organization is represented throughout the community, but each member contributes unique skills. “Every board member brings something… It’s not a monetary contribution, but it reduces the monetary need for us,” says Teresa, “it’s like that [MasterCard] commercial that’s on TV: it’s priceless!”

And what do corporations get out of this? Leadership through board positions is a dynamite method for employees to develop their professional and personal skills.  A study by the City of London, found that four times as many charity board members said they had improved their team building, negotiating, problem solving, financial and business skills when compared to other groups of volunteers (i.e., volunteers that were not board members).

In-kind and out of the box

More often than not, the generosity of a business is larger than the pool of funds it can donate. Although a corporation may be extremely eager to build a relationship with your charity, its cash donations may already be allocated.

At Habitat Mid Vancouver Island, in-kind donations are an important tool that directly supports its mission while building corporate relationships. For example, the inventories at Habitat ReStores – which sell high-quality building supplies, home furnishing, appliances, and décor to the public – are totally supplied by donations from various vendors or individuals. “Businesses may have discontinued product or maybe [the donation to the Restore] is a return-to-vendor, or perhaps something slightly scratched or dented.” Habitat also receives in-kind donations of supplies to their build sites, such as plants and drywall, from their vendors.

As an aside, Restores and the in-kind donations that support them are also wonderful examples of charity earned income models. They contribute nondiscretionary income to the organization, while fulfilling the mission of the charity.  Sales from the in-kind donations to these ReStores cover all of Habitat’s overhead costs, enabling it to be entirely self-sufficient.

Employee volunteerism: 1% perspiration, 99% inspiration

If you’ve filled out applications for corporate grants, you’re likely familiar with iterations of the phrase: “what opportunities exist for employee volunteerism?”. As the motivations for corporate giving move away from business outcomes and towards corporate culture, companies don’t just want their brand united with your cause, they want their employees inspired by it.

At Habitat Mid-Vancouver Island, Teresa has developed a tiered donor recognition document which clearly outlines the benefits of supporting Habitat, and they include Corporate Build Days. As well as providing a grant to Habitat, employees at organizations including TD Canada Trust, RBC, Windsor Plywood, and Home Depot, have come out to help swing hammers during Build Days.

“[These corporations] really get something from Build Days aside from their bosses or head offices giving us a 5, 10 or 20 thousand dollar cheque,” Teresa says. “It’s more than the cheque, it’s what that message sends to those employees that their employer is socially responsible, and giving, and kind, and cares about the community.”

A win-win-win

It is interesting to see so many corporations and their charity partners moving away from purely transactional relationship towards transformational ones. As Teresa has observed from Habitat Mid-Vancouver Island’s corporate relationships, “it’s a give and take situation and all sides receive something wonderful from it! The very bottom line out of it all is a family who is receiving a house is going to benefit from it, and the fact is that they will receive a very good quality home that has been built by the hands of all the people in the community.”

Looking for more insights on successful grantseeking? Written by Devon Hurvid and Maria Volakhava, this blog post was featured in Grantseeker Monthly, the e-newsletter of Grant Connect. Subscribe to this newsletter for monthly fundraising tips!
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