Education First Giving: The Knowledge Imperative for Higher Impact Giving

Giving Season, Non-Profits, Workplace Giving

One of the keys to achieving higher impact corporate giving lies in understanding the social and community context in which the giving occurs. While this might seem obvious, we’re still seeing evidence in the CSR field that educated, strategic giving isn’t happening as often as it should or, if it is, there are still several areas in need of improvement.

The Risks of Giving Without Understanding Community Context

Without a deep understanding of the social and community context around a giving initiative, even the most well-intentioned corporate giving efforts can go awry. This can lead to: 

  1. Misaligned priorities: A company might prioritize what it believes is essential without consulting the nonprofit, doing research, or surveying the community, leading to resources being wasted on non-essential projects.
  2. Short-term thinking: Without understanding the broader context – the efficacy of the systems surrounding an individual problem or issue – companies might focus on quick fixes rather than sustainable solutions.
  3. Lack of local engagement: Failing to engage local stakeholders can result in a lack of ownership and sustainability of a solution in the long term. 

Bridging the Gap 

Strategic, educated giving is about charitable efforts that are not only well-intentioned but also effective, sustainable solutions for partners that are aligned with the core values and competencies of the corporation. Here are some ways corporations can improve in this area: 

1. Deep engagement and long-term commitment:

  • Research and understand: Before committing resources, corporations should deeply understand the issues they aim to address. This involves researching the root causes, the stakeholders involved, and the long-term implications of their interventions. 
  • Partnerships: Collaborate with local communities, nonprofits, and other stakeholders to co-create solutions. These groups have a deeper understanding of the issues at hand and can guide corporations in making impactful decisions. There is also an innate power dynamic present between the party that “gives” vs. the party that “receives.” Corporate partners don’t experience capacity or budget scarcity the way that nonprofits do – and tend to expect a lot from nonprofits often within a very short span of time. Spend time with your nonprofit partners learning about their barriers or do some deeper learning on the challenges they face. And don’t expect nonprofits to have answers to everything right away; if you come to them with a significant donation and they can’t immediately answer “what do you need?” or “how much do you need?” – give them time and support, and work to find a solution together. 
  • Sustainability: Instead of one-off donations or short-term projects, corporations should aim for long-term commitments that can bring about systemic change. This might involve multi-year funding or the establishment of dedicated foundations or trusts.

2. Leverage employee core competencies:

  • Supporting needs assessments: Encourage employees to offer their professional skills to help assess nonprofit need. For example, a developer or programmer from a tech company could be enlisted to support a review of a nonprofit’s digital presence and assets to see where system updates or materials could be improved.  
  • Supporting research: If you’re on a smaller CSR team and have limited capacity and time to effectively research and understand a cause or nonprofit, invite employees to support the strategic planning process as research volunteers.

3. Transparency and accountability:

  • Measure impact: Corporations should establish clear metrics to measure the impact of their philanthropic efforts. This not only helps in understanding the effectiveness of interventions but also in refining strategies over time. 
  • Open communication: Regularly communicate the goals, progress, and outcomes of philanthropic initiatives to stakeholders, including the public, employees, and partners. This builds trust and can also encourage others to join the cause. 
  • Feedback loops: Create mechanisms to gather feedback from beneficiaries and other stakeholders. This ensures that the philanthropic efforts remain relevant and are continuously improved upon. And don’t only be willing to adapt based on that feedback – have systems and processes already in place should a need for improvement or change occur. Being ready to adapt and change your approach to giving means a better experience for your nonprofit partners in the long run. 

Addressing Root Causes 

The ultimate goal of any giving initiative should be to address the root causes of challenges, not just their symptoms. Without education, we risk applying band-aid solutions to deep-seated problems. For instance, addressing hunger isn’t just about providing food. It’s about understanding the economic, social, and political factors that lead to food insecurity in the first place. Only with this understanding can we hope to create lasting change. 

As the adage goes, “Give someone a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.” Education first giving is not just a best practice—it’s an imperative for anyone serious about making a lasting impact.

Kelly Lynch

Senior Strategic Consultant

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Giving SeasonNon-ProfitsWorkplace Giving

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