Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Celebrating Collaboration

I was recently talking with a friend of mine, Nancy Lippe, an officer at a local community foundation, with whom I have collaborated on several projects, about a workshop that she recently attended for non-profits about collaboration. I invited her to post an article about her thoughts following the workshop as I felt her perspective was useful to any organizations involved in philanthropy that use collaboration as a tool towards reaching their goals.
I am a program officer for our local community foundation and recently attended a workshop called "Celebrating Collaboration" targeted at nonprofits in my community, and hosted by a collaborative of local service clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc). This group, the Community Roundtable, hosts one or two events a year for local charitable organizations.

What came to mind while listening to my tablemates during a small group activity is that we each came to the table with a different definition of "collaboration." The meeting facilitator had not addressed what collaboration specifically means -- or the spectrum it can encompass. He offered charts of different stages of collaboration and elements of effective collaboration, which were helpful but assumed we knew what collaboration meant when we got there. At our table we had the Red Cross, which works extensively with local municipalities, agencies and organizations. We had one group fending off the advances of a larger group competing with them on the delivery of school site music instruction. We had several mentoring/tutoring programs who work together occasionally, performing similar functions in different niches. We also had the organizer of a community group that meets monthly just to share activities around gang prevention, but very little joint activity. They each talked about collaborating, but clearly had different ideas as to what that meant.

I think collaboration is an overused buzz word that really does not describe a specific relationship, but perhaps a desire to work together. Within that term you could chart a progression of relationships from very loose "cooperation" to a tighter organizational model that results in a new "collaborative" structure. The key variables involve the extent to which the following are shared: short and long term goals, resources, organizational structure, and leadership. The American Library Association has a terrific one page description of the progression from cooperation to coordination to collaboration that shows the relationship of these variables:

In looking back at my tablemates I think that the Red Cross collaboration is really extensive coordination with multiple organizations; the music groups are trying to coordinate competitive work at specific sites -- but this work could grow into a full collaboration where they share leadership and resources; the mentoring programs also could coordinate more on activities they share, but may not need full collaboration; and the network of local organizations dedicated to gang prevention are cooperating, not collaborating. While we need to embrace the spirit behind the term "collaboration," I think we should be more mindful in daily work with potential "collaborators" as to what we really mean, and the more explicit we are the more likely we are to succeed.

by Nancy Lippe, Program Officer, Los Altos Community Foundation

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Say No (and Yes)To Charity Requests

According to a recent Harris Poll report, there will be an expected decline in donations to charities this Holiday Season. What a time to post advice about how to say no to requests from charity! Yet strategic giving, whether it's in the form of personal giving or business philanthropy, requires careful planning and making the right choices to be effective and have the most impact. Businesses need to develop some well thought out responses to charitable solicitations that will make saying no easier on both parties. The better the plan, the clearer the reasons for saying no as well as saying yes, for that matter, will be.

Here are some great tips that work well for individual or business giving alike from author, Joann Cheung, in "How to Say No Charity Request" .

Charities rely on donations to continue their work. However, there are times when you may not want to refuse a charity donation request but you just have to. Here is some advice on how to say no to charity requests:

How to say no to charity tip #1

First, you should have a clear set of rules about giving that will make it easier for you to identify which charities you can support or, in other words, when to say no. If you feel guilty about this, do not. It is perfectly all right to set limits on your charity giving.
You can choose to support only the charities that you personally identify or sympathize with. If you are a business organization, donating to charities that buy your products or use your services is only fair.

How to say no to charity tip #2

Set aside a fixed amount for charity donations. You can donate monthly, every three months or once a year depending on what our budget will allow. Do not feel pressured to give big donations either. While they are helpful, you are free to give any amount to charity. If, for instance, the request came after you have used up your budget you can inform the requester that you may consider them the next time you donate.

How to say no to charity tip #3

For businesses, they can establish a policy where requests for donations should be in writing and given at least a month before the event. Consider only the requests that comply with this requirement. This is also effective in ensuring you only get serious donation requests.

How to say no to charity tip #4

Be direct. Do not try to come up with any excuses why you cannot make a contribution. Sometimes giving a direct no is much more effective. Let the charity representative know how you make decisions on charity giving. For instance, if you have already donated to charity up to the budget limit that you have set then simply explain this to the requester and he or she will most likely understand.

How to say no to charity tip #5

Find out what percentage of your donation will the charity use for its actual charity work. A good charity uses 60 percent or more of your donation for its charity programs and not for administrative costs. If the charity uses your donation the other way around or if the charity is hesitant in giving you information on how they will use your donation, it will be a good idea to say no.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Corporate Philanthropy Stepping Up and Rethinking Strategies

I was unable to attend this years Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's Annual Corporate Philanthropy Awards on Nov 5, so I anxiously awaited the write-up about it in the Business Journal.

In the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journals's annual giving guide, they profiled three corporations, Applied Materials, Symantec and IBM, that were the top corporate givers and the ways each of them stepped up their giving in the past year. Silicon Valley Business Journal also honored the rest of top 50 corporate philanthropies, ranked by cash contributions, noting that Silicon Valley Corporate Giving fell 4 percent overall from last year. However, out of the 37 companies that had been on the list previously, 18 companies had increased their giving.

My favorite part reading about the awards was learning about the top three givers, their giving programs, and what strategies they used that enabled them to do more during these tough times.

Most notably, Applied Materials increased their corporate giving by almost 29 percent allocating the bulk of it to United Way. Applied Material's CEO brought together leaders from the philanthropic community to hear what their priorities were, before blindly giving money away.

IBM has a primary focus on supporting education and uses matching funds, doubling or tripling their employee donations, towards education. IBM also gives donations of equipment based on employee volunteer hours.

Symantec has also focused on education by increasing their giving to Teach for America Bay Area. Their focus is to align their giving with their business, by focusing on technology education for women, the environment and online safety.

This topic of businesses rethinking their giving programs was addressed by the Wall Street Journal in an article where they posed the question to corporate executives about how they balanced philanthropy with corporate objectives. "Tough Times, New Tactics. With cash tight, corporations have had to rethink their philanthropic strategies."

Peter Sands, chief executive of Standard Chartered PLC, said: "We need to reflect on the role of banks in society. If any good is to come out of the crisis, it is that banks and bankers reflect more on their role in the broad economy to make sure their impact on society is positive" and he adds: "We want our employees to own the various projects we've committed to."

John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, seeks to have the company focus on "how to increase the multiplier effects of giving—through partnering with governments, non-governmental organizations and other companies 'to leverage our dollars tenfold.' "

And from Sophie Gasperment, the chief executive of the Body Shop International, "who continues to run the cosmetics company on the founding belief 'that business can be a force for good in society' .
The role for the Body Shop is to team up with experts who are working directly on the problem, and to raise awareness of the issue with Body Shop customers."
I applaud the Business Journal for sponsoring this annual event as they are doing a great service to the area non-profits and the corporate philanthropy programs, by celebrating their philanthropy. Times are tough and next year the challenge will be to find businesses that have come up with more innovative ideas to align their giving with their corporate objectives.

I would love to see at next year's awards and forum, the top companies asked the question: "what were your innovative strategies that helped you rethink your corporate philanthropy?"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Better Business Bureau Guide For Holiday Gift Giving

As the Holiday season is gearing up, so too are businesses starting to plan their Holiday charity drives and gift giving. While businesses are unlikely to view their philanthropy, especially around the holidays, as a purely marketing tool, it's still useful to know about the The Better Business Bureau's results of a study that: "donating to charities is not just something your business can do to help the community, it can also help your bottom line."

In their recent study they provided evidence:"That for every dollar given to charitable organizations, two to three dollars is returned in sales."

There is more good news here, in another survey by the Better Business Giving Alliance: "more than 91 of small businesses in the U.S. support charitable organizations. While 85 percent of those surveyed had donated money, the research revealed that small business giving is not confined to writing checks. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of small business owners/managers had supported charities through in-kind contributions of products or services."

If you’re looking to have your business give to a worthy cause this holiday season, Better Business Bureau offers advice and guidance that can help you give wisely. Here is my summary of the best of BBB's tips and suggestions.

-Check out the organizations that you would like to support. You can view more than one thousand BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM on national charitable organizations as well as local charities at to see whether they uphold BBB standards.

-Do some research on your own about the charities-ask them questions, go see what they do. Learn what percent of their proceeds truly go to the charity.

-Define which causes you want to support. This is the season for getting inundated with requests from a great variety of charities. A well planned giving program will help define which charities are your priorities and will help you to say no to the requests that you cannot fulfill.

-Include your employees in your charitable decisions, and give them an opportunity to include their personal causes in the decision making process.

-Make sure you track you donations. Write a check instead of giving cash. Request a receipt for your tax deduction records.

-As a way to save time and maintain records, have all the requests handled by one staff person.

-If you volunteer, your time is not tax deductible, but your out-of-pocket expenses that directly relate to your volunteer services, such as transportation costs, may be.

For more information and advice you can trust from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance about being a savvy donor this holiday season, go to

Monday, November 2, 2009

Philanthropy: An Effective Tool for a Good Business

Author: Eric Melin

Philanthropy, a wonderful thing for any business to be involved with, as it is a universal law that "to give is to receive" and is proved true on so many occasions, in so many ways.

I've also observed that those with the least to give are the ones who give most in terms of time and money to various causes such as homelessness, domestic abuse, children with cancer, and the list goes on.

I suggest that anyone who has not dabbled in philanthropy should try it. For every hundred dollars that you make, give ten dollars to a cause that you would like to support. Save the Whales, Hug a Tree, Stop Pollution, Halt Elder Abuse, House the Homeless. The choices are endless.

Corporations in the United States annually give away over $11 billion to non-profits and other charitable organizations - an average of 1.3% of pre-tax income. Yet, many do so without realizing the strategic value it provides. Philanthropic donations provide a useful, though seldom fully-leveraged, channel for improving outcomes for both the corporation and the community.

Large corporations typically have a staff dedicated to philanthropy with structure and parameters built in, giving at small companies tends to be more grassroots. Small and non-publicly traded companies can often utilize unique ways to give, such as putting their companies in a charitable trust or donating company stock. In fact, 80% of Minnesota businesses with fewer than 500 employees contribute annually through some type of giving program, according to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Businesses of any size reap the benefits of social investment with successful communities in turn supporting successful businesses.

It's important to be very observant. Upon donating your time or money, you will see a return on this investment in ways you may not have imagined.

The idea is to give what you can without any strings attached. Once you have started this movement of energy, then "what comes around goes around," and you will be pleasantly surprised at what ensues. I suspect that people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Buddha and Jesus were well acquainted with this universal law, and thus spent their lives practicing it.

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About the Author:
Eric Melin has been writing since the age of 16. His favorite topics include women's issues, homelessness, homeless veterans, the arts, cinema, biographies, nature and video production. His work has appeared in many publications around the world. You can read her blog, at . His business site is: