When good chemistry (and great skills or hard work or skillful planning or creativity …) works between a company and an NGO.
Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) is an internationally recognized NGO. Since 1991, they have assisted those in need in 34 countries. In their homebase of Hungary, they have gained a reputation for their work in focusing on families, child welfare, drug abuse prevention, and homeless care. I joined in 2010 to do something (anything!) when the horrible red sludge industrial catastrophe happened in my country. Since then, I jump into any HIA project I can, and even coordinate volunteers when it’s needed. Knowing their work intimately from and insider’s perspective, I cannot be 100% objective as I describe their skillful execution of a successful CSR partnership. However, I am impartial enough to recognize it is not only my emotional connection to HIA’s goals and values and its superb team, but also a consistent professional satisfaction and respect that keeps me with this group of amazing people. I am, and will continue to be, one of their (many) passionate volunteers.
After being a part of Central European Fashion Day (CEFD) in Budapest on 22nd June, I can declare that they know how to run CSR partnerships with companies. Not only that, but they know how to do this with the most diverse set of companies, even at an extravagant fashion show environment, where Design Terminal, the organizer of the event signed a strategic partnership which designated HIA as the recipient of all entrance fees to CEFD.
Businesses providing space for charity within their events is in fashion. Many companies are doing it. But how they are doing it varies dramatically.
As Coco Chanel said:
“I don’t do fashion, I am fashion.”
What I witnessed at the CEFD Budapest Event was the perfect realization of this quote. HIA incorporated the values of its organization into the very DNA of the show. Charity resonated within CEFD, resulting in the event being transformed in its entirety without being forced or recognized as a separate thing.
After their first event in partnership, Design Terminal expressed their immense satisfaction. They are truly happy about “the beginning of this beautiful friendship”, and have been out there with HIA during the recent flood in Hungary as well.
Exactly how was such a good match made? Was it love at first sight or did it take work to make it happen? From my experience, everything begins with good chemistry, but there is a lot of work and skill that goes into building successful partnerships.
It started with the creativity of the Communication Department of HIA. The design of HIA’s promotional materials as well as items used at the event itself, from videos, handouts,check-in area decoration, etc., all looked more like fashion elements themselves, and with the clear message: charity is not a fashion—it’s a lifestyle. HIA created unique style to tell their story to the audience without compromising their objectives and core values.
But not a thing was just for looks!
Skillful Planning & Preparation
HIA worked with Design Terminal on a project that gave their employees—young, fresh, talented, and highly energetic designers—an opportunity to get connected to the target group they wanted to support. They organized a day when children within the supporting bodies of HIA met the designers at their workplace and designed some unique bags together. Some of the children created more than one bag and those bags were auctioned off at the VIP opening party.
5 designers, 5 groups, 23 kids, 33 bags
Each child was able to leave with one bag he or she had designed and created. They were only asked to lend the bags for a couple of days to be presented on the show. It was so nice to say to the most elegant ladies and gentlemen passionately wandering around and prepared to buy those trendy bags right away that these bags are not for sale. They are priceless. The children and the designers both gained unforgettable experience and the personal contact transformed them both. And people at the event could see and understand through pictures and a superb video sketch (see below) on the screens, as well as from the volunteers themselves, how and why these bags were made and what HIA does as an organization.
I imagine if HIA were in the business world, not only would they be very successful and profitable, but they would raise money to provide desperately needed opportunities to vulnerable people, at-risk youth, and children in need.
An NGO cannot compromise its goals for the PR or communication objectives of a company, but needs to develop the skill to translate its values and goals to the language of its corporate partner. If an NGO lacks a specific skill or the capacity to complete its objective, it is the corporate partner who can help leverage skills, knowledge, and resources in order to run a successful joint event or fundraiser. This is when skill-based volunteering happens; through skill-based volunteering, real collaboration takes place.
From Do Volunteering to Be Volunteering
Design Terminal is committed to doing good in the community. They work crazy long hours and live hectic lives, yet employees are offered 7 days a year in addition to their regular vacation entitlement—unique in its kind in Hungary—to volunteer (They don’t do fashion—they are fashion!).
What HIA does well is build an ever-growing volunteer community … they take care of their partners and volunteers; they differentiate them, educate them, involve them, capacitate them, unite them, and appreciate them. I have seen a lot of corporate volunteers from partner companies participating in HIA campaigns who then come back at other occasions as private volunteers. Many of them started to think of ways to encourage their workplace to get involved in volunteering.
Something happened to them on that first or second experience, they explained … and that something was almost always unique for each person.
When companies offer employee volunteering opportunities, they provide a chance for a unique, potentially transforming experience. Volunteering can mean the beginning of many beautiful friendships and good chemistry, as this classic Casablanca clip tells best:
Have your own experience where volunteering changed you? Comment below.