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

In the second of the three-part series about the no man’s land, reasons resulting in the widening of this gap were identified. The divide between the non-profit industry, and for-profit corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs exists, and it’s due in part by the lack of inclusiveness of acquired diversity in both industries. Non-profit hiring managers hire incestuously, from a pool of talent that’s similar to their own, and for-profit hiring managers continue to hire or promote CSR professionals with academic and professional backgrounds from traditional marketing and public relations roles. Compounding on these practices, non-profit’s are oftentimes unable to provide the necessary salary and benefits for the correct staff, being forced to get by with what little they have. So how do we fix this? What measures can be taken on both sides of a widening disconnect?

While this has a lot to do with several issues (including leadership challenges, valuation of human capital, and inclusivity) the lack of acquired diversity in both industries is one of the biggest influencing factors. However, it all boils down to having too few CSR professionals who understand the true requirements of non-profit organizations, and too few non-profit professional with proven competency in business administration.

Here are some ways that you can begin to change this status quo If working at a non-profit.

  • Increase acquired diversity: Work with your human resources manager, a talent agency or recruiter to find the most qualified candidates for specific positions. Make an honest effort to seek those who are not just entrepreneurial in thought, but also have skills in business development, business administration, marketing and organizational management. Acquiring persons with the correct academic and professional backgrounds will provide your organization with the skills necessary to implement the best processes and business strategies for growth and sustainability. Doing so will increase the likelihood that the programs and departments are functioning efficiently and effectively against their requirements.

  • Diversify funding to acquire necessary talent: With hiring talent comes the challenge for non-profit organizations to provide competitive salaries and benefits to obtain and keep these employees. Funding can be tricky for non-profits as the stigma around funding “overhead” and administrative functions can be frowned upon by watchdog groups. However, you can work with your development and fundraising department to seek donors who understand challenges around funding salaries for the necessary skills. Work with leadership to make that pitch to major donor. This will not only help in hiring necessary staffing, but will double to change the culture around funding by future donors industry-wide.

  • Seek pro-bono services and take it seriously: You may wonder why I add “and take it seriously,” but let’s face it, while there are many consulting firms who will work to develop good business processes and mechanisms for non-profit organizations, but many non-profit’s don’t digest what’s being shared. Some don’t even see this as a valuable gift from these consulting firms. So change that. Work with your volunteer administrator, development department or executive leadership to engage companies that want to help establish procedures and practices that are good for business growth. By letting subject matter experts teach you a few things, you’ll receive knowledge that you can build on. For organizations that are 100 percent staffed by volunteers, this is a great solution to get the necessary skills to help enhance the business acumen you may not currently possess.

  • Take the hard road; the road less traveled: Let’s face it, if all of these suggestions were easy, more people would be doing them. Be bold, seek what others are afraid to seek. Make an effort to not default to just hiring former or current volunteers, or the friend of a friend, unless they truly have the skills. Work to hire true professionals, or alternatively, find the young talent through universities where young professionals are hungry and want to do work that aligns with their values. Both Generation Y (millennials) and Z (post-millennials) professionals are some of the most “giving” and want to work for organizations that support the causes they care for. Go after these professionals and lean on them for their academic smarts and passion. Groom and develop these young professionals, treat them right and allow them to be a part of the long term growth.

If working for a for-profit, or hiring within a CSR program, there are different but equal measures to take that include the following;

  • Seeking non-profit talent: By acquiring non-profit talent, you open your door to a vast network of professionals with an array of tools from working with volunteers and donors. When designing your CSR program, think about engaging professionals who may have a wealth of knowledge in what non-profit’s are challenged with. Hire an “insider” who can dialogue with the non-profit organizations you’re seeking to support, on a peer level and through a lens that meets eye-to-eye with that non-profit professional. Doing so will better align your CSR program with the organization you’re supporting, increasing impact and your return on investment (ROI). Whether human capital through volunteering or financial capital through monetary and in-kind donations, you’ll be better equipped to ensuring that both are stewarded appropriately.

  • Develop and train your CSR professionals: Understand your CSR professionals may be looking through the lens of a former education or profession. Reshape their lens by providing professional development through workshops, conferences and certificate programs, that aid in their understanding of how CSR benefits both the community and company. This will help get them up to speed on where the CSR industry is, orient them to CSR challenges, engage new skills and showcase the company’s investment and dedication to the community. This increases the ability to support non-profit organizations, while creating a more positive public perception that may bring more customers.

  • Ask more questions: Starting with “how can we best support your organization?” or “how can we best align our company to help you succeed in meeting your mission?” These are two great questions to ask. The next part of this is to listen. You may think that you already do this, and you might. But listening is an artful skill that takes time to develop. By asking questions and listening, you may learn that your approach to CSR has been backwards, not meeting any true requirements. You may find that the causes you’re serving aren’t the greatest fit for your corporate values. You may also find that seeking volunteer opportunities as “team building activities” for your employees and calling it “employee engagement” is harmful to both your bottom line and the community you serve.

While these are just some ways that you can bridge the divide, know that this is just scratching the surface. There are many well intentioned people on this planet, but it takes effort to harness that energy into the correct outlets. However, you need to have the correct people to help do that. It takes work getting there, and you’ll need to be willing to do that work. If you’re at a non-profit organization, don’t overlook the business practices that all successful businesses (and organizations) need, in order to thrive in an ever changing environment. If you work at a for-profit that has a CSR program, reach across the aisle and engage (and really think about hiring) professionals who’ve worked in the industry you want to support. An MBA has a lot to offer non-profit organizations in way of skills, and non-profit professionals also have a ton offer in way of institutional knowledge through experience. That’s not to say non-profit professionals aren’t as educated, it just means that they have knowledge about challenges faced at non-profit’s that MBA’s working at a Fortune company may never come across academically or professionally. The insight you can obtain by hiring out of industry can be transformative to your operations.

Think about how much more impact your CSR program can have, if the CSR program manager had staffing talent from the non-profit industry. You could have a CSR professional, who has a background in major donation stewardship, or volunteer management, to help your company navigate grant proposals and service projects in a way that a marketing professional just can’t. If you’re working at a non-profit organization, think about the type of processes or mechanisms that can exist to benefit your operations and ability to execute on programming goals by having MBA talent on board. This is the type of transformation that’s needed to bridge this gap. So where do you go from here? I challenge you to have this conversation with your hiring manager, your supervisor or even your executive leadership. Be that change agent, get that conversation started and see where it leads. I have, and in my experience you can change things in a positive way.

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