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The “No Man’s Land” Between CSR and Non-profits (Part 2 of 3)

In the first of this three-part series, I describe a scenario where both the non-profit organization, and the for-profit company fail to create a mutually beneficial win-win outcome. While this situation doesn’t always materialize, many partnerships don’t reach their full potential. There are many reasons for this, one of them being a lack of diversity of thought. Personally, I value diversity of thought, surrounding myself with people of starkly opposing views politically, religiously and philosophically. When debating, I sometimes agree to disagree, find middle ground or completely concede altogether, finding the alternative more attractive. Regardless of the outcome, I’m oftentimes confronted by new perspectives that challenge my very being, while introducing me to a new lens to view the world through. I’m a firm believer that if I’m not being challenged, then I’m not growing as a person. When diversity of thought doesn’t exist, you end up with homogeneousness, or like mindedness in perspectives, approaches to problem solving and even how a relationship is formed. When diversity of thought is in short supply while forging partnerships between the for-profit and non-profit industry, there can be a lack of understanding, leaving those involved to their own devices, and ill equipped to comprehend the other's capabilities and weaknesses. This leaves the non-profit failing to understand how to best engage a company and their resources, and the for-profit company at a loss when trying to understand the challenges faced by the non-profit, and how best to support.

Going beyond the demographic data

There’s no question that a great deal of diversity exists across the spectrum of the non-profit and for-profit industries alike. Non-profit organizations pride themselves on being as diverse as the populations they serve, and successful for-profit companies invest heavily to achieve workplace diversity understanding that it’s good for business. However, I would argue that a good portion of the diversity held at these institutions is inherent diversity. Inherent diversity is the type of diversity you’re inherently born with, like ethnicity and gender. What I’m about to harp on however, goes beyond ethnic and gender diversity, and into knowledge and experience, or acquired diversity. Acquired diversity is the diversity you learn through life experiences.

From what I gather (and correct me if I’m wrong), the non-profit industry isn’t chock-full of well oiled, efficiently run organizations. While there are talented employees with a ton of heart, many organizations are insufficiently funded, being left at a disadvantage, also lacking good business sense. With constraints around providing competitive benefits and salaries for the necessary talent, a situation is created where the little resources provided are flushed down the toilet because what’s acquired is inefficiently managed. To make matters worse, many companies that want to support these same organizations don’t understand how to execute on corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals, tackling this challenge as a marketing or public relations (PR) ploy. While this act isn’t always intentional, this may be the result of CSR program managers coming from backgrounds in marketing, communications and PR. Those same backgrounds forming the lens they’re seeking engagement through.

The problem? There are many industries that are exclusionary in nature, not considering talent that doesn’t have existing experience from that same industry. While this can be a good screening process, there’s a lost opportunity. This is short sighted, limiting a potential pool of candidates who may have a lot to offer. As a result, there seems to be a lack of acquired diversity to bridge the divide between both parties.

Unintended consequences

Two things are the blame; a lack of inclusion and lack of ability. On one hand, non-profit organizations either can’t or won’t hire specific talent, and on another, for-profit’s fail to be open to different perspectives (and vice versa). This could be an underlying cause for the lack of business knowledge at non-profits. After all, the big difference in the way a non-profit is run compared to a for-profit is the way both acquire and spend money. Generally speaking, non-profits acquire money through grants and donations and for-profits generate revenue through selling goods and services. Non-profits spend their money satisfying a social need for a population, and for-profits spend money to make more money, satisfying shareholders. However, both non-profits and for-profits need a business plan. The processes that exist from an operational standpoint are very similar. But every time I turn around, I see graduates of Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Public Health (MPH) programs as the brains behind the operations in the non-profit industry. All are fine degrees that are desired by non-profit organizations, however, all lack advanced knowledge in modern business practices from a management, finance and operations perspective. There’s also incestuous hiring practices between public service and the non-profit industry, which doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. Many people complain about the layers of bureaucracy and inefficiency that exists in government programs, but these are the same people making their way to non-profit careers where efficiency is paramount. Call me cynical, but last time I checked, government service isn’t a breeding ground for innovation and efficiency.

The gap exposed

While some people call the MBA the “frat boy degree,” there’s something to be said for a degree in business administration. After all, companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Nike, JPMorgan, Deloitte, and Walt Disney are just some employers with the highest percentage of MBA graduates on payroll. Sure, they’re all extremely successful for very unique reasons, but it’s no coincidence they invest in employee talent with business knowledge. That being said though, for-profit companies are doing great when it comes to making more money. Which begs the question. Do they invest enough into CSR practices? Is the CSR professional the “black sheep” of the for-profit world?

There can certainly be more CSR professionals in the for-profit industry, but of those in the CSR field, an overwhelming number of them carry academic and professional experience from previous backgrounds in marketing, communications and PR. This only makes sense, there’s a reason those professional backgrounds exist in the for-profit space. Marketing, communications and PR professionals are hired to craft messaging, enticing customers to purchase their companies products and services. Unfortunately, most professionals from the for-profit industry with those academic backgrounds don’t know diddly about non-profit programming requirements, or more importantly, how to satisfy them. Equally challenged, social workers, government and non-governmental policy and programming buffs don’t instinctively understand how to generate wealth, craft brand messaging, or know how to run a business. The result is a break in understanding that results in both parties talking past each other, unable to create that win-win. When one looks at the lens being peered through by both industries, it becomes evident that something is off.

What does it take to get the non-profit industry to being more open to hiring talent without “non-profit experience,” or better yet, to spend money on the talent from the for-profit industry with a proven track record? Or how about this for a novel concept, a for-profit company hiring a professional with a competency in volunteer management from a non-profit for their CSR employee volunteer program? Are these wild ideas? We’ll explore these ideas in the third part of this series, but in the meantime, share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.

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