In an age where companies are becoming increasingly engaged with their communities through their corporate work, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is fast evolving into an all-encompassing endeavor. The Satell Institute, based in Philadelphia, PA, a Think and Do Tank Dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility, — fosters such partnerships between corporations and nonprofits. While the basis of the partnerships through the Institute consists of a minimum 4-year commitment of $25,000 in annual donations made directly by the company to the nonprofit partner, many of these partnerships are going above and beyond a solely monetary contribution. One such partnership is between Bentley Systems and the Chester County Food Bank (CCFB). Barbara Reisenwitz, Director of Services Operations at Bentley Systems, explained their deeply intertwined relationship with the Food Bank.
Reisenwitz currently sits on the board of CCFB, but first got involved 10 years earlier through a seemingly small conversation. When casually mentioning to the Food Bank’s executive director that the tomatoes in her garden would go bad soon if no one ate them, he suggested she donate them to the Food Bank, and perhaps even go on to start a community garden. Upon hearing this, she said “It awoke the Italian mother in me, I felt like I had to feed everybody.” CCFB has a raised garden program where over 100 garden host sites dedicated to growing food for CCFB have been set up around the county. Gardens have been set up by churches, companies, and even schools. At the schools, they serve the dual purpose of teaching students the science of growing plants whilst providing food donations. This gardening program was Reisenwitz’s first involvement with CCFB. “It’s really fulfilling because it’s such a basic need for people. If you don’t have food, you’re not going to do well at work, at school. It’s the most fundamental thing. If you don’t have a roof over your head or food to eat, you’re not going to be successful in anything you do,” she explained. Reisenwitz emphasized how even though Chester County is one of the richest counties in the country, 1 in 7 people there still face food insecurity. What CCFB aims to do is to not just equip people with food, but also with information for healthier eating, cooking, and growing food.
Now, 10 years later, the relationship between the organizations has evolved into a deeply invested business-nonprofit partnership. Bentley colleagues volunteer in a number of ways, one of which is through the garden program by planting and weeding the raised bed gardens behind the company building. The company’s unique partnership with CCFB, and their physical proximity, allows them to help each other out in a number of neighborly ways. CCFB has a FRESHstart Kitchen culinary training program which educates and prepares under or unemployed residents for opportunities and sustainable employment in the food service industry. Colleagues working at Bentley come to buy lunch from and sit as restaurant customers in the FRESHstart Cafe, providing the culinary students with simulated customer experiences. They give constructive criticism on the food prepared to help the students develop their skills. Beyond that, Bentley colleagues volunteer by assembling food packages for CCFB to distribute, and by participating in events like the annual Peanut Butter and Jelly drive which gathers PB&J supplies in the summer for kids who usually receive subsidized lunches during the school year. Bentley even lends its conference rooms to CCFB for food provider meetings. CCFB was able to return the favor when Bentley needed somewhere to host their Big Brother Big Sisters program after a fire burned through their main floor, and the Food Bank offered their volunteer room.
Knowing there are a lot of organizations out there who wish to achieve similar goals and hope to have successful partnerships like the Bentley Systems and the Chester County Food Bank, here are some tips:
- Organizations need to listen to what matters to their workforce; creating opportunities for the whole company to get involved in giving back is pivotal.
- Take a look around. Are there opportunities in your direct area/ sphere of influence that you can help make even better? Go do that.
- Find a way to combine your mission with someone else’s need. How can you use your knowledge/ skill/ funds to make someone else’s life better?
- Do something – seriously, anything – that makes someone else’s self-worth increase. People who value themselves want to help other people feel good about themselves.
- Be Patient. Relationships are not built overnight. Keep an open dialogue. The simplest of conversations can lead to growing an idea that will meet your collective goals.
- Think outside the box. Every company and nonprofit has different needs, and we are seeing that even more so now. Many companies are not doing traditional on-site volunteering right now due to COVID-19, but there may be other opportunities to engage with your corporate partner. A strong corporate partner will also be thinking about creative ways that their company can act as a resource and true partner for your nonprofit. Get creative!
- Understand motivations. Employees might volunteer to help the cause, or to enhance their résumés, boost business reputation, or fulfil a company mandate. As a nonprofit, take the time to listen to your partner and its employees’ motivations. Work to educate companies, especially key leaders, on community needs and what is involved in creating meaningful impact. For example, although most companies want to volunteer at a food bank during the holidays, the real need may be during the off months.
The extent of employee engagement in the partnership between Bentley Systems and the Chester County Food Bank is inspiring, and the collaborative spirit and open communication between the two organizations demonstrates an exemplary CSR partnership. CSR programs around the country are offering more ways for employees to get deeply involved with social impact efforts, and the Satell Institute continues to support the formation of these corporate-nonprofit partnerships in the hopes of helping communities in new ways every day.