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In 2018, I launched my second technology startup. I put time, resources and capital into becoming a company that embraced diversity, inclusion and equity, and I did so for good reason. In my previous article, “The Pandemic Generation: How Organizations Are Supporting Youth and Tackling Social Justice Work,” I highlight high-profile organizations taking a stand and working to effect real change. I heard from numerous other CEOs, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators about how they’re growing their brand to create social good.
Having served as a digital media strategist, advising national and global brands, CEOs, politicians, and celebrities, I’ve worked on equity statements, consulted with executives on philanthropist goals and advised on crisis management. My experience in this space coupled with over a decade of work fundraising for Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), a nonprofit organization providing no-cost academic, enrichment and wellness programming to the youth of L.A., I have seen firsthand how the private and nonprofit sectors can interact and convene for social good.
The data on millennial consumers is clear: They want their dollars to go to companies that share their values. According to a survey from the World Economic Forum and Ipsos, 86 percent of respondents “want a more equitable and sustainable world after the pandemic.” Porter-Novelli’s 2020 report The Business Imperative For Social Justice Today, found that 80 percent of “Americans believe companies need to recognize their role in systemic racial inequality.”
But did you know that millennial employees feel the same about their work environments?
The millennial generation, which makes up about 50 percent of today’s workforce, is bigger and more diverse than previous generations. Only 56 percent of this cohort is white. With this comes new responsibilities for the employer both to their employees and the world at large. One survey conducted by McKinsey & Co found that 84 percent of respondents experienced microaggressions in the office.
Microaggressions, macroaggressions and the unconscious bias that prevent women, Black and Brown employees, and others from advancing in the workplace contribute to the systemic injustices prevalent in our society today and negatively affect a company’s growth opportunities and staying power.
To help you retain employees, better highlight your values and effect real change, consider the following actionable steps:
1. Focus on outcomes.
Often, NGOs are asked to bend over backward, sometimes sacrificing effective programming, to work with corporations offering them vital funding. Select a nonprofit that shares your values, needs your support and is able to deliver on the philanthropic impact you hope to achieve. Once you’ve done that, have a conversation with the organization’s leadership. Coming to a common understanding that allows the nonprofit to continue or better their work and your brand to create social good, could lead to a high-impact partnership for life.
2. Identify common goals and shared values.
Identifying stakeholders is important to keeping your philanthropy in line with your brand. Your philanthropic goals should make sense. If your business creates custom guitars, it might make more intuitive sense to partner with a community organization that brings music lessons to under-resourced schools rather than a nonprofit bringing raising funds for girls who code.
3. If you can, stay local.
By virtue of being any business in any community, you are using roads, public services, and affecting the community you are in. Look locally for organizations that are looking to fix systemic issues in your own backyard. Even as a national or global brand, in my experience, people tend to want to spend more and partner with you when their money’s going to support their local communities. Many brands enlist thousands of local retailers who sell their products and their own store managers to select an NGO in their local community that supports the cause locally.
4. Be authentic.
In the social media age, there are hundreds of thousands of amateur auditors ready to call you out for inauthentic claims. Make sure your leadership is on board with your philanthropic goals, and work hard to fulfill your claims to do better. Consumers can recognize performative allyship and they won’t be shy in filling your channels with their thoughts.
5. Communicate clearly.
Community organizations benefit, just as you do, from brand recognition. Be honest about what kind of recognition you expect and when. Nonprofits will appreciate the lead time and may be able to offer naming opportunities of their own.
6. Engage experts.
Community leaders and nonprofits have been in this space for decades. They know where your partnership can be best used. Trust those working in the field and always ask: Where can we have the most impact?
7. Offer flexible funding.
Unrestricted funding (or general operating funding) is the most impactful kind. Nonprofits often wear many hats and unrestricted funds are the least amount of work, which translates to more good being done in your name. Often, nonprofits are able to use the funds with flexibility, and can potentially take advantage of grants that match unrestricted funds, creating a bigger impact. Unrestricted gifts allow nonprofits to tap into institutional funds and larger grants which can be a huge fund multiplier.
Our world is demanding accountability and action, especially after a transformational year like 2020, and our businesses are no exception. As our country continues to reckon with human rights issues such as pollution and climate change, labor rights, and diversity, equity and inclusion, each business leader will need to make a choice: How will my business be remembered?