Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations
INTERVIEW WITH BOBBI SILTEN
Chief Foundation Officer, Gap Foundation
BB: There would seem to be a need for a better understanding of the benefits in developing partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
BS: When we look at this relationship it’s an ecosystem. We’re parts of a system and you can’t ask the nonprofits to seek corporate partnerships if corporations aren’t willing to partner. As nonprofits get more sophisticated at this so do corporations need to get more sophisticated. But I like that challenge. It isn’t just that one sector needs to address this…it’s our joint opportunity.
BB: How does the Gap Foundation approach this ecosystem?
BS: There are two things that drive everything we do here, literally everything, small project or big project. There are two strategic pillars. The first is leveraging our company assets, thinking beyond cash and to think about our assets in a really integrated way. We look at causes where our assets can actually have more impact.
For instance, we used to fund a mobile dental van. They did great work but unfortunately, our company assets have nothing to do with dental work. If we were a medical company, it would be a great match for us to do something like that. But being an apparel company and a retailer we have to think, what fits our business, such as job readiness, and that’s where we focus our assets.
The second thing is we create the virtuous cycle. The virtuous cycle is thinking about and working for all the stakeholders. When we invest in community, first we think about what does a community need? And that’s where you always start. The community is at the top of the cycle. But then you have to think about the various stakeholders that are involved in delivering that. Internally I want employees or brands, or in some cases customers, participating, and how do I get them to keep doing this. I have to think about what do they get out of making this contribution.
Everybody gets to feel good. Employees might increase their skills by doing volunteer work in the community, engaging with a nonprofit. It’s a multiplier effect that starts to happen.
You also look at shareholder value. It’s about building reputation and, yes, reputation is a part of it, but stakeholders in a business have to think about healthy communities, are those communities going to have people who are educated, who will have jobs, who will be future employees, who will be future customers.
All those things are very important to business and so when we think about investing in the community, we don’t think about it as a very one-dimensional, you know, act of charity, it is really in our mutual interest and those returns could come in many different ways to the stakeholders.
Up Next: Interview with Bobbi Silten, Part 2
For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit: www.bruceburtch.com