Archive for the ‘Volunteerism’ Category

Prosperity and Integrity: Harnessing the New Power of Benefit Corporations

Given the economic volatility our country has endured during the past three years, it’s easy to think of corporations as faceless, legal entities that care only about bottom lines. And in the face of reduced government funding and support from private foundations and corporate giving programs, nonprofits have been feeling the pinch more sharply than most. But, in this era of “too-big-to-fail,” “bailouts,” and perceived greed, it’s important to remember that corporations were originally conceived with both economic prosperity and the protection of public welfare in mind.

Early American corporations were not given unlimited reign, but were closely guided by the views of their investors and the tenets of their charters. Transparency and accountability were not just marketing buzzwords, but common standards of practice.

There has been a recent movement-which many in the nonprofit sector have observed-of for-profit entities engaging in socially-conscious endeavors.  This trend falls under the broad umbrella of “social entrepreneurship” and, very recently, states have begun to recognize a new incorporation option available for businesses that wish to be both financially successful and socially conscious.

This new construct, called a “Benefit Corporation,” stresses sustainability along with financial success. More to the point, this new model is a boon to the non-profit world. It provides the opportunity for increased cooperation with a conscientious corner of the for-profit sector and the potential to leverage more sustainable impacts on business practices beyond existing corporations. Benefit or “B” Corporations redefine the modern notion of commercial success by valuing “stakeholders” above “shareholders.” Unlike traditional corporations, B Corporations must facilitate, and publicly report, positive social and environmental impacts through their work in order to register with the non-profit organization, B Lab (http://www.bcorporation.net). This third-party validation process provides a number of valuable benefits to participating businesses:

  1. Save Money.  B Corporations have the potential to deliver immediate financial value, and B Lab has already saved B Corps over $1M through service partnerships.
  2. Set Yourself Apart.  B Corporations differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and the certification process allows companies to generate press, meet sustainability requirements set by other companies, enhance reputation and mitigate potential trust erosion from consumers.
  3. Find Common Ground.  B Corporations offer a “common ground” for businesses that are committed to both the mission-driven ethos of the non-profit world and the best practices of the for-profit section.
  4. Connect With Your Peers.  Through B Lab, B Corporations are encouraged (and incentivized) to collaborate amongst themselves and share best practices in sustainability, marketing, finance, IT, and HR.
  5. Grow Faster and Smarter.  The raw numbers (http://www.bcorporation.net/resources/bcorp/documents/2011-AR_B-Index.pdf) demonstrate that registered B Corporations expand at a more consistent rate, work more closely with other area organizations, offer better benefits to their employees, and foster more positive change within their communities than traditional corporations.

Here’s a look at other companies that have already taken advantage of the B Corps model:

Impact Makers, Inc: Impact Makers delivers information technology and management consulting professional services, focused on the healthcare industry. They are a non-stock, “competitive” social venture – the critical difference between Impact Makers and their competitors is that all of Impact Makers’ profits go directly to their charitable community partners. (http://www.impactmakers.org/)

PhilanTech: PhilanTech provides the PhilanTrack™ online grants management system – an innovative online grant proposal, reporting and management system that enhances accountability, transparency, and efficiency. This online system enables valuable resources to be redirected towards service delivery and greater social impact rather than to grants administration. (http://www.philantech.com/)

Fair Trade Sports: Fair Trade Sports, Inc is the first sports equipment company in the US to launch a full line of eco-certified Fair Trade sports balls, ensuring fair wages and healthy working conditions for our adult workers. They have sports balls for soccer, football, basketball, rugby, volleyball, and more. (http://www.fairtradesports.com/)

Seventh Generation: Seventh Generation is the nation’s most recognized brand of natural household and personal care products. For 20 years, the company has been recognized for its non-toxic cleaners and personal hygiene products. (http://www.seventhgeneration.com/)

Practical Energy Solutions: Practical Energy Solutions is a privately owned partnership located in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Their talented and passionate team provide common sense solutions for reducing energy consumption and costs. The business operates as an independent consultant for clients so there is no conflict of interest on any recommended efficiency and conservation measures. (http://www.practicalenergy.net/)

We hope that you’ll take the time to look at B Lab, investigate some of the other companies that have already taken advantage B Corps, and in general think about what this new model could mean for the future of business.

We’re excited. We hope you are too.

Please feel free to contact Elliott & Davis, PC with all of your questions about nonprofit formations and management.  Elliott & Davis is a full service law firm with expertise in the areas of nonprofit law, civil litigation, corporate law, real estate law, estates & trust, immigration law, entertainment law, civil rights law and domestic relations law.

For more information about these, or any of our other practice areas, please visit our website at: www.elliott-davis.com.

Please feel free to give us a call at 412-434-4911 ext. 25 for a free phone consultation.

 

Volunteers Wanted: How Your Organization Can Boost Programming By Promoting Volunteerism

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve served as a volunteer in some capacity at least once or twice.    And if modest salaries and grueling hours are a norm within your nonprofit, there’s a chance you feel like you’re volunteering all of the time!

In any event, volunteerism is part and parcel to most successful nonprofits.  Without volunteers to canvass neighborhoods, stuff envelopes, and share their time with the communities served by nonprofits, there’s a good chance many nonprofits would be forced to go under.

Winston Churchill expressed the volunteer spirit nicely when he observed that “[w]e make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.”

The purpose of this post is to look at current trends in volunteerism and provide you with information that your organization can use to further your mission by enlisting the help of volunteers.

One-Time “Day of Service” Emerges as Trend in Volunteerism

With Kermit the Frog as its spokes-amphibian, Disney launched a new volunteering campaign dubbed “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” in which volunteers who dedicate their time were given a one-day pass to a Disney theme park.   Participants were able to search through volunteer opportunities on the Disney Web site and manage their volunteering accounts.  The campaign, which has now come to an end, was successful—reaching its ultimate goal of finding 1 million volunteers.

According to a recent article in the NonProfit Times, Susan Ellis, president of Energize, Inc., in Philadelphia, said the Disney giveaway and other days of service “validate that you only have to do the minimum” and that, however well-intentioned they might be, they could be sending the wrong message.

With days of service increasing in popularity, the question becomes one of quality versus quantity.  Some might argue that efforts to promote volunteerism need to be more sustainable—focusing more on fostering long-term commitments to a cause rather than generating large turnouts.   But, on the other hand, many nonprofits would welcome any new volunteers—even if they were only there for a day and only to get the free Disney tickets.

How to Grow Volunteerism in Your Organization

Regardless of where you stand in this debate, your organization, like most nonprofit organizations, is always looking for more volunteers.  So what are some practical tips you can use to attract and retain volunteers?

First, figure out what roles you need to fill with volunteers.  Depending on the nature of your activities/programming, this could be anything from picking up trash on sidewalks to performing surgeries at no cost.  The task of determining which positions will be filled by paid staff and which will be filled by volunteers is not an easy one.  Clear communication and full participation among all board members is a key part of this process.

Second, once you have identified roles for volunteers, the next step is recruitment.   There are many different strategies that could be employed here.  Larger nonprofits that can afford it may want to consider using an advertising campaign as a tool to attract volunteers.  Smaller nonprofits with tighter budgets can still draw a lot of attention to their volunteer opportunities by using free social media tools such as Facebook.  Organizations both small and large may also want to consider teaming up with other nonprofits and for-profit organizations by taking part in a “day of service” program or other coordinated volunteer efforts.

Finally, once you have attracted volunteers, you will need to devise a strategy for retaining them.   Incentive programs such as the “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” program are good at attracting volunteers, but they might have limitations in terms of retaining volunteers.  Organizations interested in retention will want to spend some time discussing different ways to recognize and reward volunteers.   Some ideas include: volunteer gifts, recognition in a newsletter or website, volunteer appreciation dinners, or other special events.

Some Good Economic News (Finally!)

On a somewhat different note, there’s good news coming out of the Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier this month.  According to a new poll of more than 500 donors, donors are showing increased confidence in their ability to give to charity as the economy shows signs of stabilizing.    Almost half of donors surveyed said they would give at least as much as they did in 2009.   According to the survey, the majority of donors said the economy was the main influence on their giving.   The most robust outlook for nonprofits was in the faith-based sector.  According to the survey, donors to religious charities scored 94.9 on a 100-point scale, compared with a score of 88.4 for nonprofit groups as a whole.