Turning economic uncertainty into a competitive advantage: NonProfit Opportunities

In today’s economy, it doesn’t take much work to hear about another sad story about how the economy has transformed our everyday lives. We all know someone’s that’s been laid off, businesses who have struggled to raise funding, and existing businesses that have to restructure the way it does business. With economic uncertainty comes economic opportunity. Warren Buffet says it best with his famous line “Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.” Mark Cuban goes on to say “The nature of our country’s business infrastructure is that it is destined to be boom and bust. Booms are when the smart people sell. Busts are when rich people started on their path to wealth.”

Nonprofits and community service organizations have been hit hard because of the recession. The corporate sponsors aren’t there like they used to be, and individual donors, the lifeblood of many nonprofits are less willing to put forth the money that make the business model work. It’s also a big risk to throw a major fundraising event by committing so much cash, knowing how potentially difficult it may be to cover costs. I have received far less invitations to galas, $500 a plate receptions, and other events than any time that I could remember. (One interesting thing to note is when watching CNN several months ago, they reported that several nonprofits are seeing surges in volunteers, people who have been laid off and don’t exactly want to stay at home staring at the television).

I have started to notice a trend where some employers are enabling their employees to work for various nonprofits and community service organization for several days. The employees are getting their normal salaries. It isn’t considered a vacation day or personal day off. For these institutions, this is a tremendous perk to the employees. The employees feel like they are working for an organization that cares about a balanced life, supports philanthropy, and enables them to be positive contributors to society.

There is always a shortage of top-flight talent, in any economic environment. It’s tough to keep the high achievers within your company, because in many cases other opportunities arise and often, they feel constrained by the company they work for. This is the reason why companies like Google enable 20% of their employees time to be focused on their own projects, and why some lawfirms enable their top employees to do special projects and pro bono assignments outside the scope of their core business. Enabling your workforce to volunteer, could be a competitive advantage for people, personnel, and employee well-being. Imagine coupling this effort with an initiative internally, within the company, to make a social community initiative for the volunteers to connect and organize online and offline.

Our new US government administration states that they want Americans to be more committed to public service. They launched USAService.org, a site where Americans can get together to plan and join campaigns for public service. It’s kind of like Meetup meets Causes meets ThePoint. One of the interesting things, and whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you see that the new administration is taking a very personal approach to attempt to engage and empower the American people. Whether it’s working, remains to be seen, but this is another extension of the plan to ensure that the administration maintains its grassroots appeal, and continues to push the movement.

Why not take that next step?

The next step for government to capatilize on this trend of employers giving employees paid volunteer time, is to enable a portion (or all) of the donated time to be a tax deduction. This would incentivize all employers to consider layering this into their benefit packages for their employees. These companies would look more attractive, which can help in recruiting and retention of top employees, and the tax deduction could be financially beneficial. The big company feel could create some self-selection (with volunteerism) that would create smaller communities within the company, potentially connecting employees at a higher level. Some may not feel like a small fish in a big pond, but a small fish in a small pond within a large organization.  On the flip side, this could be a significant shift in supply of eager volunteers that if organized, could have a profound effect on the missions of these nonprofits and community organizations.  They’d have a pipeline of people who have chosen the nonprofits that they’d like to volunteer for, and coupled with a site like USAService.org, the results could be extraordinary. Imagine the impact of creating 100 million+ people to volunteer a couple times a year for their favorite organization. More than likely, a majority of these people wouldn’t have had the time to volunteer otherwise. That’s what I call a stimulus.

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2 responses to “Turning economic uncertainty into a competitive advantage: NonProfit Opportunities

  1. This reads similar to a pitch I presented to un-named national non-profit that refuses to innovate on the traditional charity model of “we partner privately with large businesses who recommend that their employees donate a small portion of each check to our organization.”

    Although I have little experience in corporate America – I am extremely familiar with Parkinson’s Law. I cannot imagine too many people outside of us crazy entrepreneurs and eternal tinkerers have 8 hours of honest, continuous work per day. So, if the unnamed organization above partnered with businesses for labor in addition to money, think of all the donation calls, awareness campaigns, or in-school seminars that would be come a reality.

  2. Hey Andy, thanks for stopping by. We think alike in many ways. I think the key is to have an organized program that can turn all of this energy and enthusiasm into affecting change. Imagine if you have to register for that particular nonprofit 4 weeks in advance, and had to register through them. They could anticipate the volunteer levels like it was inventory and be able to formulate a strategy based on this. These organizations would have to register with the state or city to get approved, and from there, the magic can happen.

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