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Mar 19, 2014

Lending Executives to Social Innovators is Trending

The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) annually releases a survey of the philanthropic activity of its membership, comprising 150 CEOs of the largest global companies.

The latest survey Giving in Numbers: 2013 Edition  reports that, while direct cash donations dominated at 47% of total giving in 2012, non-cash contributions have been growing at a faster rate of 10% or more in each year since 2008.

This continues a trend away from cash giving and toward in-kind giving (dominated by pharmaceutical company free or reduced prescription support) and toward loaned executive and other volunteer programs.  In fact, paid-release-time employee volunteer programs were offered by 70% of companies in 2012, compared to just 53% of companies before the global recession.

Nonprofits remain focused on fund-raising as opposed to “skill-raising” from their corporate supporters.  I have always wondered why.  Perhaps a more structured effort is needed to identify nonprofits’ skill needs and to match them with loaned executives.  Ironically, the government, which is not usually in the forefront of new ideas, has done this for decades.  The process is called “seconding” where one governmental department “loans” its staff to another department.  For example, from 1987 to 1989 I was seconded by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to the Office of Management and Budget of the City of New York to help them in their revenue and economic forecasting area.

I recently ran across a structured program called Serve2Gether Consulting Social Innovators.  It is a collaboration between American Express and Ashoka Changemakers.  It is a 10-week “loan” of American Express employees to about 15 social innovators identified by Ashoka.  “The goal was to provide budding changemakers with pro-bono consulting and tailored mentoring to help them reach scale or strengthen core operations. The program culminated in the submission of project plans, created with the AmEx consultants, for funding consideration.”  Then 2 of the 15 teams were awarded a small seed-funding grant.  The program website is here.

The Ashoka program is spread across the globe; however, that does not mean that a community cannot establish a similar program for its nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.  Two things are needed:

  1. Companies that are eager and willing to lend high-level, skilled employees for two to three months (why not more? I was lent for 2 years) and ensure their absence is a benefit to the employees’ careers, not a detriment.
  2. A “broker” to match employees with social innovators.  The broker needs to be adept at evaluating innovation and the cultural/organizational prerequisites for successful innovation.  Foundations are not usually experienced in this type of evaluation, which is very different from evaluating grant applications.

This second requirement may be the more difficult to satisfy.  If your community has an active program that identifies, supports, and mentors social enterprise, that program may be the best candidate to fulfill this critical broker/match-making task.  The Community Investment Network of Central Ohio (CINCO) may be a structure to consider.