Op Ed | Respect for Community Investment Professionals

publication date: Mar 4, 2019
author/source: Brad Offman

Community investment Professionals (CIPs) are some of the brightest, most thoughtful, community-oriented folks that I’ve ever met. In many ways, CIPs are the true gems of the corporate world because they espouse so many of the values that the charitable sector holds dear – impact, societal betterment and making a difference.

CIPs are rightfully respected by those who work in the charitable sector. Sure, in some respects, they hold the keys to the coffers. But most also speak the language of the sector – they understand the unique needs of charities, and for that, they are rightfully respected, even revered.

My biggest problem with the CIP is the occasional indifference, and yes even disrespect, that they receive from colleagues within their own organization. I know this first hand. At Mackenzie Investments, I was the Senior VP, Strategy Philanthropy and the President of the Mackenzie Investments Charitable Foundation. Sounds impressive right? You’d probably be saddened, but perhaps not shocked, to learn that my CI responsibilities were literally absent from my personal accountabilities and objectives. That’s right. I was not evaluated on our Foundation’s success (and it was substantial) or our other CI strategies. I was essentially a CI volunteer. (I was evaluated on our charitable businesses like our donor advised fund program).

But I think that indifference to the CIP is about to change.

The good news, and I think it’s good news, is that the intersection points between the charitable and corporate sectors are growing, becoming more complex and getting closer to business drivers, like cost mitigation and revenue generation. There is some pretty neat stuff that is happening in the corporate-charitable partnership space and most of it isn’t what I would call traditional community investment.

It’s really best understood through real-world examples (names have been changed).

Take a partnership between Fratali Pasta and Diabetes Foundation for All (DFA).

Fratali is launching a low-glycemic diabetes-friendly pasta. Normally, they might purchase TV spots and grocery shelf space to support product awareness and sales. But in this case, they engage in a broader cause campaign with DFA, who after evaluating the nutritional content of the pasta, agree to make their constituents (donors, followers, partners, etc.) aware of the new product. (DFA has a huge audience of donors, supporters and followers).

For Fratali, this case is about selling more Pasta. Full stop. It’s about appealing to a very captive audience through a different channel. For DFA, it’s not just about the money (which helps advance its mission). It is about pleasing its constituents by making them aware of a product that they’ve been waiting a long time to consume, diabetes-friendly pasta.

The relationship between the corporate and charitable sectors is complex. It’s still about important CI drivers like employee engagement, impact, and branding. But it’s increasingly about direct drivers to the business, like revenue generation and cost mitigation.

And the dollars in this new space are big, even huge. Companies spend lots of money on things that directly drive the business – that drive sales, or mitigate costs. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that – absolutely nothing. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the future. If Fratelli spends piles of money selling pasta to people living with diabetes who are looking for a healthy alternative, how can that be a bad thing, especially when the money they derive from this relationship is also furthering the broader DFA mission?

So perhaps it’s a reminder that in looking at their own programs, as CIPs reshape and retool their strategies, they may want to consider looking at ways to create impact that falls within the company’s core business drivers. If CIPs do things that improve society and the bottom line, they are really going to see some heads turn.

Brad Offman is the Chief Executive Officer at Spire Philanthropy. Spire provides strategic counsel to charities on building sustainable and lucrative corporate and institutional relationships. He also gives strategic counsel to financial institutions and corporations looking to grow their philanthropic practice, through product development and more focused approach to community. He has particular expertise in endowment building and structures and the strategic uses of planned giving.

The Corporate Partnership Conference is only a few months away, where 300+ CIPs will join 15 corporate partnership experts to talk about how companies and charities work together. To learn more, register for the upcoming Corporate Partnership Conference.

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