Right now, for the most part, businesses sit in the judgement seat making decisions about which nonprofits they will support and why. Organizations and institutions come before business leaders and committees seeking financial support. These nonprofits commit a lot of time to developing presentations and grant applications that make the case for why they are “worthy” of investment. Most don’t get funded, and they end up feeling as if they are at the mercy of businesses for their survival.
Nonprofits can change this dynamic by changing the narrative, and communicating which businesses are providing support, and which are not. They can be loud in saying who benefits from their community without giving back. They can highlight the businesses who are part of the solution and make clear who is taking but not giving, especially in “minority” communities.
In the not-so-distant past, it was Black churches and organizing groups who raised the clarion cry. They let it be known who was benefitting from Black consumers and not giving back. Activists called out businesses who were seen as “takers” and at the same time identified those who were committed to the neighborhoods they operated in. They highlighted the disparities in services across a community and across racial and economic lines. The past few years have seen a resurgence in public anger at the lack of investment in primarily Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. For the most part philanthropy has been called to task, and many foundations have responded. Many large, national corporations with departments committed to grant making and community engagement also responded. Most did so publicly. They wanted consumers and residents to know they were putting money into disenfranchised and underinvested communities and organizations. They did not want to be “called out” for being part of the problem.
Now it is time for those of us in leadership in local and regional businesses to respond, if we haven’t already done so. We need to answer questions before they are asked. For example, how are you giving back? And how are you giving to Black-led and Black-serving nonprofits? How are you saying thank you for the work nonprofits do to help sustain the communities where you operate? Do your staff and management serve on boards and local advisory councils? Are employees encouraged to volunteer as a group or as individuals? Are you providing pre-employment training through local nonprofits and committing to hire locally? Are you making consistent annual gifts or grants, and extra gifts to special campaigns? What about sponsoring or underwriting event expenses? Are you providing loaned employees for both short-term and long-term support in the areas of communications and marketing, human resources, budgeting, emergency planning, and more?
We need to proactively become part of the solution before we are called out by those who knock on our doors and don’t receive a response. You may not think you are part of the problem, but others may – and they just may be your customers, employees, competitors, or your board members.
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