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Roundtable Analysis: The state of Arizona’s nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations are finding the need to constantly adjust their priorities to balance an ever-evolving economic climate with the changing needs of those they serve.

The top priority for most nonprofits from years past – acquiring new donors and maintaining relationships with existing donors – has been surpassed by the need for nonprofits to engage the community, promote brand awareness and the conflicting pressures placed on nonprofit leaders’ time, according to the Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

To talk about the issues and trends facing nonprofits today and the ways businesses can boost their bottom lines by improving their efforts to be socially responsible, Az Business Angles talked with with members of Az Business Angels’ advisory board to talk about the trends and challenges facing nonprofits, the benefits of corporate giving and how Millennials are changing the existing business models for nonprofits.

The Az Business Angels advisory board members who offered their views are:

  • Deborah Bateman, vice chairman of the board of directors, National Bank of Arizona

  • Tyler Butler, founder and principal, 11Eleven Consulting

  • Derrick Hall, CEO, Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Kristen Merrifield, CEO, Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits

  • Nicole Stanton, managing partner, Quarles & Brady

Az Business Angels: What is the biggest trend that will impact nonprofits in 2018?

Deborah Bateman: It’s difficult to predict the “biggest trend” to impact nonprofits in 2018, but I would lean toward trends in the financial or social media realms. If President Donald Trump is successful with a material tax cut, then we should expect financial trends that would result in boosted philanthropic giving from corporations, foundations and wealthy donors.

Regardless, I would recommend that all nonprofits stay abreast of new developments and trends in social media.  Nonprofits should be creating strategies to get the most out of their social media for fundraising, new initiatives and better engagement with their audiences.

Tyler Butler: I think joining the corporate and charity brands through partnerships and joint campaigns is going to be something that becomes more prevalent. I think by doing that, there is going to be a big boost that enables causes to raise more awareness. And in turn, hopefully raise more funds for their needs. I think that most businesses are moving towards an opportunity to really cultivate something special and unique with nonprofits. The nonprofits that can respond to that and look at how they can best leverage what they can do best as a nonprofit to give a brand boost to the companies they partner with. I think those are going to be the ones that see the most success moving forward.

Derrick Hall: I think the economy has recovered and consumers are now confidently spending money and generously donating money. A trend I have seen is more and more of the six to seven-figure matching gifts that are generating larger sums in a shorter amount of time due to deadline attachments to the development.

Kristen Merrifield: Rapidly advancing technology will continue to be a trend for nonprofits and it will require them to stay up to speed in order to remain relevant to their donor base. I have heard from several nonprofit colleagues that they don’t feel newer technology (think Facebook Live or even mobile giving for example) is as important because their donor base still trends older and isn’t as engaged on these platforms. However, where are the next generation of donors coming from and what are we doing today to begin to engage them with our causes?

Nicole Stanton: There will be a continued steady increase in the use of mobile technology to simplify the donation process. But conversely, there is a greater need than ever to be authentic and offer donors, partners and supporters a true human connection to the organization so that the technology does not end up a deterrent.

Az Business Angels: How has the Millennial generation changed the way businesses view social responsibility?

Tyler Butler: I’ve been a practitioner of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for some time. I’ve seen the needle move very slowly to it being a must-have for companies. But I think since Millennials have entered the workplace, what I’m seeing is more of an emphasis on that piece. Companies are now feeling the pressure to compete in that space to get the best Millennial talent. And Millennials are known to give a lot of prudence and a lot of thought on where they’re going to work and often base that decision on the company’s overall character and the principles by which they all do business, and I think that all leads back to being a good corporate citizen. Even if you just pay attention to TV, a lot of brands are really highlighting their campaigns about how they give back and being a good corporate citizen. And although that boosts positive sentiment, I think a piece of that is also to help their overall brand image. And recruiting needs to have that now as a conversation point to get the best talent.

Derrick Hall: It has made corporate giving more of an individual employee decision. Millennials do not seem to embrace a corporate nonprofit campaign or target. Rather, they would like to give only to what is important in their lives.

Kristen Merrifield: This dovetails on the trend question as it involves engaging a new, growing set of philanthropists. While this group may not be yet writing the $100,000 checks, they are absolutely paying attention to how their colleagues and their employers are taking care of the communities around them. Millennials truly embody the “walk the walk” and don’t just “talk the talk” mentality. They want to be a part of the solution, which includes being offered opportunities to do so through their choice of workplaces.

Nicole Stanton: Cone Communications just published a study reporting seven in 10 Americans now believe companies have an obligation to take actions to improve issues — even ones that may not even be relevant to everyday business operations. The study, which I see as a clear indicator of Millennials making their voices heard, also showed that this generation’s definition of what being a “good business” means today is clearly linked to authentic CSR.

Deborah Bateman: I am truly inspired by the Millennial generation. They demand transparency and they want to make an impact on the world. Businesses need to understand this generation’s values, because they are our trending and growing workforce and consumer.  There is an abundance of data that supports this, but one that I find very telling is that according to the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study, “more than nine-in 10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause.”

Quarles & Brady partner and past-Make-A-Wish Chair Brad Vynalek with “Wish Kid” Jayne, 13, who had her wish be a fashion designer granted during the 2016 Wish Ball. Quarles & Brady, led by Office Managing Partner Nicole Stanton, earned the 2016 Make-A-Wish Arizona Tom & Madena Stweart Lifetime Compassion Award for its several decades of support and service to the organization. (Provided photo)

Az Business Angels: What impact do you see on businesses that put extra effort into corporate social responsibility?

Derrick Hall: Those businesses that do will have stronger loyalty from their consumers. When companies truly make a consistent impact on their communities, customers tend to take pride in an association with those brands and companies.

Kristen Merrifield: I have seen the biggest impact coming from those businesses who incorporate social responsibility and philanthropy into their culture and their core values.  If it is buying a table once a year at a gala, or small clothing drive or food drive once every few years, you probably aren’t truly effecting change in your community.  The big impact comes when businesses truly become partners with the nonprofits in their community and work together and through their employees to engage in meaningful ways.

Nicole Stanton: Corporate social responsibility helps to both attract and retain engaged and productive employees. It often also attracts potential investors and clients with similar values and beliefs, which leads to better partnerships from the onset and develop into long-term relationships.

Deborah Bateman: Businesses that put extra effort into their social responsibility or philanthropic efforts net big benefits.  It puts a “halo” on the company brand. In addition, it attracts potential employees that want to be part of a workforce that is doing good things and making the world a better place. More than once, I have had a prospective client contact me and say, “I want to move my banking relationship to National Bank of Arizona because of what you are doing in the community.” Great companies don’t “give” to get back, but it has been my experience that it can comeback tenfold.

Tyler Butler: I think businesses need to really authentically put effort into a full-circle partnership. And what I mean by that is having all different aspects of giving — from financial to volunteerism to in-kind support. But I think for philanthropic efforts, companies are going to get a greater positive sentiment boost, which I think is so valuable for companies these days. I think companies who navigate their CSRs strategically will have their employees more activated, who will be out and about doing more good through volunteerism and donation drives. For companies that are involved with philanthropic efforts, I think employee retention is better. Stakeholders are more invested in the success of the company as well. I definitely see there is an opportunity to have a higher degree of sales for companies, as well as their products being more well received.

Az Business Angels: Where do you see the biggest need for businesses to help nonprofits in Arizona

Kristen Merrifield: The need is truly abundant. I think this goes back to the previous question as well — determine how the community intersects you and your employees. Find a nonprofit that matches your passion, or better yet, that of your employees or customers. Talk to the nonprofit and better understand their unique needs — maybe its a financial contribution for operating expenses or maybe its expertise in a certain field or it might even be a board member or volunteer.  The other area I think is becoming increasingly important is to simply be an advocate for the sector.  Help share the good report of what the sector is doing, not only the “feel-good” work, but as a peer in employing Arizonans and generating revenue to support our local economy.

Nicole Stanton: Aside from funding, businesses have a great opportunity to provide mentoring and advice regarding best practices in management of an organization.  While not all ideas are applicable to nonprofits, some will be and could be impactful for a nonprofit.

Deborah Bateman: I believe partnerships, alliances and advocacy are key in helping nonprofits in Arizona.  The ability for a nonprofit to market itself is expanded when a business will align and partner with that on events and in social media. For the past 12 years, I have consistently asked our nonprofits, “What can I/ NB|AZ do to serve and support ?” Consistently, the answers are, “help us to tell our story, provide us with greater visibility and introduce us to your clients.”

Tyler Butler: From a nonprofit standpoint, what I see is a growing need for financial support. I think businesses are being really savvy and smart in diversifying ways they give back through various in-kind support. And there is volunteerism, but I do see the skill volunteer pieces being integral as well. With nonprofits having budgets cut, their organizations may not have specialty areas, whether it’s PR and marketing, accounting or legal. They need skilled volunteerism in those areas and it’s a service to them. They can continue to do business as normal, besides having budgets cut. So, you know that’s one of the biggest needs for nonprofits in Arizona, to have that skilled talent, as well as the financial support on a consistent basis.

Derrick Hall: I believe it’s through campaign leadership or board leadership. With that partnership comes the ability to draw from other corporate leaders and Rolodexes.

Az Business Angels: What advice would you give to business leaders looking to spread their philanthropic wings and make their businesses more socially responsible?

Nicole Stanton: Authenticity is everything. You can’t fake caring. So the best way to develop your own or your business’ philanthropic wings is to seek out causes – being children, homelessness, animals, et al. – that mean the most to you and/or your team. Follow your passion!.

Deborah Bateman: First, have a plan (a corporate social responsibility strategic business plan). Within the plan, identify your areas of focus, your key initiatives, and the resources available/dedicated to insure the successful execution of this plan. Make sure that one of the company’s executives is fully accountable for the plan, its results and its perceptions. In addition, make it part of your regular corporate/business reporting — just like your financials, key business metrics and service standards. Accountability is key.

Tyler Butler: It doesn’t’ matter what size the business, I advocate heavily for businesses to engage with the CSR experts. I think a lot of companies have good intentions. They have someone in a senior leadership role or someone who has been with the company for many years and they will put that person in the place of community relations or community development. And, unfortunately, that person has good intentions, but doesn’t have the expertise or know-how to put the programs in place that are going to be strategic and sustainable. So, I advocate for either a consultant to come in and help you put the mission and values and programs in place and then hand that off with some training to someone who can manage a bare-bones program. And for a larger company, I advocate that they have someone who is really well versed in this area as a full-time member of its staff. I’ve seen it so many times where businesses have the best intentions, but they aren’t thinking in a way that’s sustainable. In turn, they cause some confusion in the communities and amongst the charities as to what their focus area for giving is or the ways they give back. I think having an expert involved in the conversation helps any business be smarter about its philanthropic efforts.

Derrick Hall: It starts at the top and must be genuine, but it is the employee base that can make the difference. Encourage and incentivize employees to be a part of giving or volunteering and provide paid time off for a set amount of hours per month.

Kristen Merrifield: Walk the walk. Don’t just put it in your marketing, but embed it in the heart of your business.

One thought on “Roundtable Analysis: The state of Arizona’s nonprofits

  1. Kay McDonald

    This was a great article that shared a variety of viewpoints. The defining element is that nonprofits are struggling to grow leaders and retain donors, and need to seek out new ways to engage their communities. As someone who works daily with non-profits we always emphasize the necessity to define their brand. There is so much competition for the same dollars, and the clearer the brand, the more the awareness.

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