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Business in the Third Sector- Think Tank Analysis

26 May 2005 at 1:05 pm
Staff Reporter
Communication is the key element for Not for Profits in being more business like and dealing successfully with the corporate sector, according to our Pro Bono Australia "Business in the Third Sector" Think Tank.

Staff Reporter | 26 May 2005 at 1:05 pm


Business in the Third Sector- Think Tank Analysis
26 May 2005 at 1:05 pm

Communication is the key element for Not for Profits in being more business like and dealing successfully with the corporate sector, according to our Pro Bono Australia “Business in the Third Sector” Think Tank.

A majority of participants agree that good communication at all levels flows on from open and transparent processes and systems.

Some 90 Think Tank members from six states completed the survey – 75 % are employed within the Not for Profit sector, 18% within the business sector and 7% from the government sector.

Pro Bono Australia set up a national Think Tank to consider the issues surrounding the sector and to provide useful feedback to those working within the Not for Profit sector as well as those dealing with the sector from both business and government perspectives.

The majority of participants agreed that being more businesslike means being professional, efficient, accountable, transparent, well planned, strategic, organised, using business principles such as sound human resource management and good governance, operating on sound economic principles and being aware of the bottom line.

One offered a caution by saying it means streamlining operations and not using the Not for Profit status as an excuse for mismanagement.

Another suggested that being more business like is operating in a way that many businesses don’t!

While it’s agreed that good communication is essential, many in our Think Tank believe they are lacking the skills to assist them with their communication needs, especially when it comes to dealing with the corporate sector.

Most notably many pointed to the need for greater proposal writing capacity and proposal writing skills, presentation skills and general communication skills in building relationships with corporates.

Their experiences of dealing with corporates have also been very mixed from ‘favourable’ and ‘positive’ to ‘frustrating’ and ‘amateurish’.

As a Not for Profit without DGR status, most corporates are only interested if they can write off any $ as a tax donation. On the whole I find that corporates are largely unaware of the work the Not for Profit does and in Australia has a “tea and sympathy” view of the sector and doesn’t view it as a professional sector. We are pursuing a partnership model and whilst some corporates are ahead of others, there’s a lot of work to be done, including a whole change of attitude toward and within the sector.

Another response said…we don’t have DGR status so they’re not very interested in us! We did, however, have two years of volunteers from an employee program of a large multi national. They were well meaning, but … we had to redo the work the first year, and it actually cost us to help them complete the project last year. Perhaps we didn’t control it well enough, perhaps we didn’t specify outcomes at the start. But it seems a bit of a way for corporates to fulfil community obligations at a superficial level.

Here’s a selection of the varied comments provided by our Think Tank participants:

We started by working out a corporate engagement policy that defined the type of corporates we could work with and stay true to our mission.

Our core business is working with corporates and we find it a successful partnership. Corporates expect a certain level of professionalism and if this is matched, then the business rewards can be high.

Lots of interest, but have trouble actually executing contracts/partnerships.

My experience dealing with corporates has been a positive one. Importance was placed on ensuring both parties needs were meet in terms of sponsorship, gift in kind, brand development and marketing goals and outcomes.

I have heard someone refer to the scale issue of a small non profit engaging with a large corporate as like holding on to a dragon’s tail – you never quite know where you are going to end up; another person told me that large groups require as much work as small businesses so it is more intelligent to aim higher – I find these useful parameters for shaping our corporate engagement direction.

Many corporates don’t understand true partnerships with NFPs so default to either sponsorship frameworks which they load their own outcomes to a point that does suit our NFP. I have had marketing people tell me that they want a ROI as high 16 -20 times their investment.

Individuals are keen to help us but generally corporates want under-resourced charities to do the work that brings rewards to the corporate in terms of a reputation for helping the community etc. They often opt for charities that assist children, or life and death situations.

Abysmal – if you can’t offer a tax break forget it!

Think Tank participants were asked what resources would help improve corporate community relationships. Access to expertise and networking opportunities were high on their lists.

One respondent suggested ‘swapping jobs for a day or so between the two sectors’ with the assistance of a ‘corporate broker/adviser on sponsorship and relationship building’.

And this: Support from ‘loaned executives’ who can show us how to be more efficient and effective. (I bet we can show business people how we can operate a great business with only 20% all up costs) Especially loaned executives who can assist with the development of business plans that look like corporate business plans and speak their language- (for the business community) and executives who can teach us a thing or two about marketing an organisation as complex as ours.

In a similar vein another suggested field visits; arranging for corporates to visit and find out more about community organisations.

We need serious, intelligent, high calibre workshops involving both top ranking corporate personnel and fundraisers, designed to deliver industry insights into successful proposal development and strategic matches. Current literature lacks depth, is too simplistic or too vague.

From the corporate side, participants said networking opportunities, formally printed annual reports and legislative reform that enforced social responsibility would help in developing successful corporate community partnerships.

As well they suggested community organisations that can speak the language of business and clearly articulate/demonstrate their work and value will succeed.

Others suggested pro forma contracts and agreements to streamline the processes.

One NFP concluded: Over-all, I don’t think CSR is something that many Australian corporates believe in. I think that success in gaining support from the corporate sector is directly related to their MD and their core philosophy, not just business policy. Be it good or bad, the rot starts at the top! At the end of the day, I don’t mind if I get a NO from a corporation for my organisation, as long as they support the community in some way, shape or form. I don’t believe they can do it all and it would be unfair of us not-for-profits to expect them to.

If you would like to comment on our Think Tank topic Business in the Third Sector then join our On Line Forum. Just click on Forum in the left-hand menu on our home page.

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