Monday, March 28, 2011

“Corporate” Social Responsibility: Small (to Medium) Business, Big Impact

by Laprisha Berry Vaughn
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

What drives businesses to commit to corporate social responsibility? Well it depends on who you ask. The C in CSR is for corporate. However, small and medium businesses engage in CSR activities and are committed to its principles in a big way. But, there are marked differences in how corporations engage in CSR and how smaller businesses make decisions about donating their resources – both human and financial.

More times than not the owners/managers of small and medium businesses use personal values rather than expected business benefits as the motivating factor for engaging in activities that contribute to the social good. In other words, their decisions to give can be guided by the heart (doing good for goodness sake) and not the head (doing good for business sake). Because small and medium size businesses often engage in CSR without a related business strategy, they demonstrate a true commitment to the community and to the charities and organizations to which they contribute.

What does this mean to the nonprofit organizations? Nonprofit organizations that are looking to diversify their funding and increase sustainability should consider approaching small to medium size businesses for their time and talent. Local businesses that are familiar with the local nonprofit organization are likely to give money or manpower/womanpower to events and programs. This can be as substantial as a yearlong effort to raise money for a charity, cause, nonprofit organization, or as simple as providing complimentary meeting space or hosting a canned food drive in the business’ lobby. Whether the plan for contributing to the nonprofit organization is simple or substantial, the organization should keep in mind sustainability while creating and cultivating a relationship with the business owner/manager. The relationship with the business should be long-term and mutually beneficial.

On the other hand, what does this mean for small to medium size businesses? These types of businesses can - and should - continue to be guided by their passion when making decisions about giving. However, they may also want to borrow some lessons from the big boys and communicate their giving in a formal way to their employees, local market and the community. Evidence shows that businesses that are perceived as socially responsible attract and retain more customers and vendors. Thus, effectively reporting community investment can affect a business’ bottom line.

Reports of community investment need not be complex and overly formal. They can be presented on company websites, through press releases or published brochures. Moreover, reports can be low cost and high yield. If expertise or cost is an issue, business owners may want to consider contracting with a community involvement advisor with writing expertise to assist with integrating a CSR report into their marketing plan.

Employing and communicating use of CSR initiatives can ensure a big impact for a business’ bottom line by increasing its customer base and fostering employee leadership development. Garnering support from local business owners who share the vision of the nonprofit organization can have a substantial impact on the organization’s capacity to serve the local community. In other words, through use of effective community engagement initiatives, small (to medium) businesses can make a big impact.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Guest Feature: Ensuring Sustainable Social Change in the Global Community

By Sharie A. Blanton
Guest Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Sharie Blanton working with an entrepreneur collecting
honey for export in Manica Province, Mozambique
During my seven years working in eight countries across southern Africa with Africare, I know my efforts resulted in a new and empowered class of African development professionals working with international credentials today. Projects I managed produced the intended results: refugees were eventually repatriated with new income generating skills and a solid basic primary education. Farmers are still growing improved varieties of maize and orange fleshy sweet potatoes, and mothers have passed on new recipes to their daughters on how to make nutritiously enriched porridge using locally sourced products. So now what?

When I officially began my professional career working in international development in 1997, the common philosophy guiding me and my freshly hatched college graduate colleagues was how we were working with the goal of building local capacity as a way to “work ourselves out of a job”. Well that is exactly what I did and now thirteen years after making this pledge I have transitioned to embrace a new mission statement. 

Building on the past five years of working with dozens of local nonprofits in Miami, I was interested in building on my lessons learned in Africa to develop new solutions based on the following:

1) technology that did not exist a short ten years ago; 
2) technological contributions to the quickly evolving field of collaboration; and
3) impressive opportunities to develop new social enterprises as a way to ultimately provide viable, funded local solutions to local problems. 

The sweet face of one of the many children
who benefitted from enriched porridge in
the Model Families Program in
Manica Province, Mozambique

This is the next wave of global philanthropy: self-inspired solutions to local problems which require culturally competent, appropriate technology. While hopefully the giants of global philanthropy like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will remain active for a long time to come, this movement will further democratize global philanthropy by supporting hyper-local efforts.  As donors and technical assistance consultants in the field, we must provide and fund that middle step between the project and the international donor to help ensure local solutions to project success, sustainability and onward marketing. 

Transitioning the skills, knowledge and successes that I developed during community meetings under trees, in refugee camps and with Ambassadors and Heads of States to an equally exciting and rewarding career back in the United States has become an insightful journey in itself. I now work in Miami with community-based organizations, and each day I find far more similarities to my work in Africa than I expected - but in a surprisingly different way. In an opposite way, actually. While we worked hard to ensure accountability, sustainability and results were at the foundation of all of our development programs with Africare, these concepts are largely absent from the nonprofit and donor sectors in my new hometown. Funding tends to follow historic relationships and largely ignores deep community impact and social change. These sorts of projects would not have the luxury of continuing in Africa. Without demonstrated impact-based results, ongoing project funding would not be renewed. 

Bringing this international development and global philanthropy perspective to U.S.-based community development has been exciting. Just this week I discussed a related concept with the University of Miami, specifically the implementation of the community health worker model based on Project Medishare’s success in Haiti. This model would allow for more effective outreach in Miami around school health initiatives. Best practices are abundant in global philanthropy, which can equally be applied as domestic solutions. Global after all does not mean just “them”. It means “us”. All of us. 

Sharie A. Blanton is Managing Director of Conscious Connections LLC in Miami, Florida.  She provides strategic advisory consulting to local and international nonprofits and emerging social enterprises.  Ms. Blanton holds degrees in Sociology and African Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  You can follow her and Conscious Connections on twitter @consciousmiami.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Houston Networking Guru Combines Business and Philanthropy

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

There are times when one may arrive at a perpetual fork in the road in life. The chosen path often unexpectedly shifts the direction of one’s life for the better. Small business owner Tony Gambone arrived at his own fork two years ago, and the subsequent detour has allowed him to impact numerous business owners and non-profit organizations. 

Born in Pennsylvania, the 13-year Houston resident and community volunteer hosts both his own blog radio show, Tough Talk with Tony Gambone, and networking events in conjunction with InHouston. Local charities are spotlighted during these programs, and all proceeds from the networking events are donated to the selected charity.

“I wish I could I say I was this really smart guy who had a dream one day about how this was all going to happen,” Gambone said. “I definitely didn’t plan this, but I’ve been fortunate.”

Prior to launching his blog radio show and becoming one of the most recognizable faces in Houston, Gambone’s career included managing a Las Vegas casino and operating a successful construction company with his wife Wendy. His segue into business networking and consulting began in 2009. It was that year Gambone said he was told he had eight blood clots in his lungs. “I was told I had a forty percent chance of getting out of the hospital,” he said.

Though he survived, Gambone was unable to continue working in the construction industry after completing treatment. He decided to take time off to determine his new career path. On a whim, he decided to launch his popular Tough Talk with Tony Blog Talk radio show to improve his public speaking skills. “My wife thought that would be a good name because of where I’m from,” he said.

Gambone recruited a friend to help him launch and promote the show on Facebook in early 2009. He interviewed entrepreneurs about their businesses in an effort to help them market their services. “I started doing the show once a week, then three times a week, and then ninety minutes a show,” he said. “Then people started asking me to sponsor my show and do commercials for them.”

Fast forward nearly two years later and Gambone said this initial hobby is now a business venture. Tough Talk features guests from all over the country three days per week. While Gambone’s larger-than-life personality has made him a recognizable face in the Houston community, he admits his notoriety came as an unexpected surprise. “I honestly didn’t even know why people liked me so much,” he chuckled. 

Through his volunteer efforts, he identified the Joe Joe Bear Foundation, an organization that provides new teddy bears to children with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. He said the Foundation resonated with him due to his personal experience with managing Crohn’s disease, a chronic digestive illness, since he was a teenager. The Foundation was the first organization Gambone highlighted through his ventures, and he is a former Board member.

“What I’ve found was that doing things to help other people and organizations has caused other people to want to help me,” he said. Gambone has a penchant for connecting people with the resources and potential partners they need. “I encourage people to seek out new business partners,” he said. “It’s like developing a love affair.”

He also emphasizes the need to determine what one can give - just as he did - during challenging times. He aims to change the way small business owners leverage networking opportunities, and help his colleagues understand the benefits of focusing on helping others rather than selling.

While he understands the value of elevator speeches and business cards, Gambone said he often does not use either when navigating networking events.

“Take the time to learn about other people and how you can help them first,” he said advises. “Life really is that simple, but we often complicate it more than we need to.”

To support Gambone’s team for the upcoming Liver Foundation Walk, please visit the Tough Talk Team Fundraising Page. To learn more about his radio show, visit the Tough Talk with Tony Gambone website or connect on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Achieving A Trifecta Through Fundraising Event Corporate Sponsorships

By Laprisha Berry Vaughn
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Everyone loves a win-win. Well, how about a win-win-win? A fabulous fundraising event such as a fun run, dance marathon, annual dinner, auction or wine tasting hosted by a nonprofit and sponsored/underwritten by corporations who are committed to corporate social responsibility is a win-win-win: a winning situation for the nonprofit, the corporation and the community they both serve and a nice alternative to answering a foundation's Request for Applications (RFA) or Request for Proposals (RFP). 

Foundation funding is one of the most popular streams of funding sought and secured by nonprofits. However, event sponsorships are often offered by the same philanthropic organizations. For example, Comerica Charitable Foundation and Corporate Contributions Program identify several specific charitable priorities. However, Comerica and other corporation's provide sponsorship for charitable events or events held by non-profit organizations. But, why do corporation's sponsor events and why should nonprofits seek sponsorships?

In a nutshell, the nonprofit and for profit have the same goals. On the surface, community organization's purpose for hosting a fundraising event is to provide an experience that amuses, entertains, enlightens, tugs at heart strings and hopefully purse strings.

Non-profit fundraising events also have three underlying goals:

1. Generate publicity for the organization
2. Raise the visibility of the organization
3. Bring in money, preferably new money.

Corporate sponsorship serves a three-fold purpose for the sponsor:

1. Increase company or product awareness
2. Increase visibility
3. Bring in new customers/new money

The corporate sponsor's goal is met through a mutually beneficial arrangement where the non-profit organization solicits businesses, corporations to buy a table, an ad or pay a significant amount of the event's cost in return for having the business name being prominently displayed at the event.

So if you’re a nonprofit ready to host a fundraising event or a for profit organization considering what to do with profits earmarked for community giving, consider the rare trifecta of a corporate sponsored charitable event that increases visibility for the non profit and the for profit, offsets costs of the event and benefits those served in the community.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Comerica Bank: Changing the Face of Financial Institutions

“If you live in a community and conduct business in a community, then it’s imperative to give back to that community,” said Irvin Ashford, Community Development and External Affairs Director for Comerica Bank. This philosophy, he emphasized, serves as the foundation for the company’s community involvement initiatives.

Interestingly enough, Ashford’s career actually began in the non-profit sector. “I’m a community guy who works at a bank,” he said. “I consider myself an investment banker by investing in the community and watching those efforts grow.” 

Comerica's Irvin Ashford and Vanessa Reed pictured with
Comerica Scholars from University of Houston
(From L to R: Irvin Ashford, Brittney McGee, Amber McCloud,
Ian Bailey, Qualandria Steward, and Vanessa Reed)
Photo courtesy of Comerica Bank
 For the past ten years, however, Ashford has invested his own professional skills to support community initiatives on behalf of the company.

Headquartered in Dallas, Comerica’s charitable giving efforts are focused within its primary operating locations of Texas, Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan.

In 2010, the company contributed some $10 million to non-profit organizations nationwide, and its employees contributed over 6,000 volunteer hours in Texas alone. Further, Ashford said the company’s employee contributions have gradually increased over the past four years.

It is through these efforts that Ashford said he strives to change the public’s sometimes fearful perception of financial institutions. “A bank is a facilitator for your dreams,” he said. “They should be considered your partner as you journey through life’s circumstances.”

Ashford said Comerica is committed to being a socially responsible business and making tangible investments in communities. The company’s efforts are driven by a distinct community investment mission, as well as issues that are important to its employees.

Comerica’s charitable giving programs are administered through the Comerica Charitable Foundation and Corporate Contributions Program. The company’s specific charitable priorities focus on ensuring the economic development and self-sufficiency of individuals and families through various philanthropic initiatives, including:

  • Employee Volunteerism
  • Financial Literacy
  • Neighborhood Revitalization
  • Small Business Training and Development
  • Transitional and Supportive Housing
  • Access to Health Care
  • Diversity and Inclusion
Comerica executives and community supporters at the
November 9, 2010, unveiling of the Comerica Bank
Financial Literacy Collection at Dallas'
North Oak Cliff Library Branch.
(From L to R: Irvin Ashford, 
David Neumann, Dallas City Council - District 3
Delia Jasso, Dallas City Council -District 1
J. Patrick "Pat" Faubion, Comerica Texas Market President
Corinne Hill, Interim Director, Dallas Public Libraries)
Photo courtesy of Comerica Bank
 Ashford emphasized the benefit of these community giving initiatives to financial institutions. “The reciprocal nature of volunteerism and giving is more than creating a good feeling,” he said. “We benefit by being able to use our craft in a different and meaningful way.”

In addition, he said employee volunteerism efforts provide a neutral platform for staff members to collaborate, which is vastly different from the traditional competitiveness of corporate culture.
“These community collaborations foster team-building and leadership development in a non-threatening environment,” Ashford said.

He emphasized the company’s support of small businesses in this economic climate, as well as its commitment to ensuring the long-term success of entrepreneurs. “We support small business owners by partnering with community lending organizations like ACCION,” he said.

Ashford attributes the company’s successful partnerships to adhering to two key concepts: Community Buy-In and Mutual Respect.

“Comerica is very good about listening to our community partners to learn about what they need rather than telling them what we will give them,” he said. “If I could emphasize one thing, it would be to earn trust, respect and community buy-in by building long-term partnerships with organizations.”

For Ashford, community development is a concept that extends beyond charitable giving. He also strives to influence the perception of African-American men and foster cultural understanding through his work.

“If you notice, I have locks and there aren’t many men in Corporate America who do,” he said. “I hope the people I interact with in business settings realize I’m the same man both in and out of this suit.”

While his community development goals may seem quite vast and daunting, Ashford humbly perceives his efforts as only a small part of the global circle of those working to create community change.

“The non-profit organizations are the real heroes,” he said. “We’re just a helping hand.”

For more information on Comerica Bank’s philanthropic initiatives, visit the company’s community investment webpage.