Blog: What can businesses learn from charities?
Published: 31 May 2018
Having spent almost 10 years working with charities and social enterprises, seeing the incredible commitment and talent of their people, I grew increasingly frustrated by perceptions from the corporate world of these organisations as ‘nice’ but not professional enough, as inferior to business.
I believe this attitude is limiting what both businesses and charities gain from working together, and I set out on my 2017 Churchill Fellowship to explore how to challenge it. I embarked on my travels in search of proof that the flow of insight in business-charity partnerships is not one way, and that there is much that businesses can and do learn from non-profits.
Over six weeks, my research took me up both coasts of the USA; to Washington DC, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, and on to Bogotá, Colombia. Visiting and interviewing over 50 organisations, I gathered examples of all kinds of learning flowing from non-profits into businesses, feeding into all areas of their work.
Below: Natalie at the Microsoft campus in Seattle
In my report, I present some of these examples in a model for business learning from non-profits. This shows how expertise from the third sector can help businesses to better understand issues that touch all areas of their operations – from making supply chains more environmentally friendly, to providing great service for vulnerable customers.
As well as what businesses can learn from non-profits, I explored how this learning can take place. For example, senior management at Fidelity Investments have seen their employees developing creativity and problem-solving skills through working on pro bono projects.
I also heard from corporate responsibility professionals striving to work more collaboratively with non-profits but experiencing a real sense of frustration that their businesses have come to be seen by many purely as a potential source of funding.
Shifting the dynamic of business-charity partnerships can result in better outcomes for both: for charities, influencing how business is done can take them a step closer to achieving their social mission, whilst for businesses, learning from charities can help to improve performance and efficiency, at the same time developing a stronger ‘social contract’ and securing their long-term future.
Responsibility for this lies on both sides, and I am now focusing on sharing and discussing my findings with business and charity audiences, circulating my report amongst relevant networks and looking for opportunities to write and speak about it.
Natalie’s Fellowship is supported by The Rank Foundation