Common Impact Blog

Lessons from the Social Sector

Lessons from the Social Sector

By Danielle Holly | Sep 10, 2014

While the ideas of cross-sector collaboration and shared value have been popular for a while --  indeed, so popular that they are in danger of being oversubscribed and overused -- most of the conversation that we've seen has focused on the ways in which the private sector can be more strategic in helping nonprofit organizations. And while nonprofits certainly do need support -- in the way of financial, pro bono, and in-kind contributions -- to sustain and grow their programs, we often overlook the ways in which nonprofits can help the private sector. 

Here are a few ways that our team at Common Impact has seen our nonprofit clients provide business insight to their corporate team partners:  

Creative Thinking and Problem Solving

How do you solve a problem with little or no money? That's a question that nonprofit leaders must answer every day, and one that corporate employees may never face in their careers. But the creativity and innovative thinking that's required to answer that question is a beneficial experience no matter what resources you have at your fingertips.  And as corporate budgets for critical business functions continue to tighten, companies are increasingly looking to their employees for answers to that question; and seek the wisdom of nonprofit leaders on how to produce results by increasing innovation instead of budgets.  

Evolving Technology

Picture this: a team of newly hired corporate employees, a few months out of college, holding court with the most senior executive of their department – who is levels above them on the career ladder. They're sharing the new technology platforms that they've recently learned on their Common Impact skills-based volunteer project and explaining why it would be good for business back at the office. By way of these junior employees, this leader of an enormous technology operation at a Fortune 500 company is actively learning what's new and relevant to his work from a nonprofit organization with a budget orders of magnitudes smaller than his.

This is a trend that we're seeing more broadly, particularly with the introduction of cloud-based platforms and social media: platforms such as, Drupal and Hootsuite.  Given the constraints that nonprofits typically have with technology budgets and expertise, they are often the early adopters of lower cost, experimental platforms.  As these move into the mainstream, larger companies look to these platforms to evolve and innovate in a rapidly changing technology environment. Companies have a lot to learn from nonprofits that have already figured out how to make these platforms successful for business.   

Managing Transition and Change

While nonprofits are often known for volatile operating environments, limited budgets and frequent staff transitions, companies are increasingly dealing with these very same challenges. We're hearing from more and more companies that constant restructuring and budgeting shifts are more the rule than the exception, and corporate leaders are struggling to motivate and engage employees in this challenging, evolving environment.

One solution they've turned to is a long-used business strategy of the nonprofit sector:  enabling employees to bring their values to work and make fewer personal sacrifices as they build a career. By introducing programs that allow employees to have a daily impact on their communities, that allow their schedules to flex so they can do the early pick up at school, and that provide meaningful opportunities to share their values and perspectives with their supervisors and colleagues, companies are pulling a page from the social sectors book -- and creating a balance and stability that allows employees to feel engaged in a shifting environment.