Making CSR good for the nonprofit sector

Kellie McElhaney is on a mission to transform the way corporations do business. As the founding director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Responsible Business, an adjunct professor at the Haas School of Business, a corporate consultant and a sought-after speaker, McElhaney has a highly-visible platform from which to make her case. In her recent book, Just Good Business: The Strategic Guide to Aligning Corporate Responsibility with Brand, McElhaney presents a compelling argument for why businesses should integrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their core business strategies. She outlines the features of successful CSR strategies and provides real-world examples of best and worst practices.

While the book a quick and entertaining read is intended for business executives, nonprofit leaders can learn a lot from its insights.

CSR is a growing field. Consumers are demanding that companies become more responsible. Research confirms what we all intuitively know: Employees are more loyal, productive and satisfied when the companies they work for are ethical and give back to their communities. And, studies show that CSR is good for the bottom line.

However, many companies’ CSR strategies fall short. McElhaney points out that nonprofits have what corporations need to make their CSR strategies successful. Nonprofits have the trust of community members and constituents, credibility, knowledge of social issues and how to address them, and a proven track record for making a difference. Unfortunately, nonprofits typically just ask for money from corporations instead of leveraging their strengths in forming CSR partnerships. As McElhaney stresses repeatedly, “This is a major missed opportunity for nonprofits.”

This is a clear call to action for nonprofit leaders to position their organizations to reap the rewards of CSR initiatives.

Nonprofit leaders should meet this challenge head on and not let preconceived notions of the corporate sector hold them back from pursuing strategic partnerships. Sure, not all businesses are “good guys,” but nonprofits should avoid falling into the trap of a knee-jerk dismissal of these opportunities on “principle.” They should not let themselves be type-cast as the type of NGOs that McElhaney describes as those “for whom being cynical is easy” or, worse yet, “whiney.”

Instead, read the book to better understand what businesses are seeking in these partnerships. Then, figure out whether a CSR partnership is right for your nonprofit and, if so, what you want to get out of it (in addition to financial support). Consider the strengths that your nonprofit brings to the table and develop a set of criteria to use in finding and shaping a partnership that will support you in achieving your strategic objectives and furthering your mission.

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