The intersection of business’ greatest strength and Georgia’s greatest community needs

Karen Beavor
President & CEO
Georgia Center for NonProfits

How have the past two years changed the landscape of societal needs and solutions for Georgia communities? What is the intersection of businesses’ greatest strength and Georgia’s greatest needs? goBeyondProfit turned to an expert to answer these questions.

For more than 20 years, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits has served as a cornerstone of support for Georgia’s nonprofit and philanthropic community. Its mission is to build thriving communities by helping nonprofits succeed.  It provides a powerful mix of advocacy, solutions for nonprofit effectiveness, and insight building tools.

Generally, please explain how recent dynamics have altered the landscape of needs in Georgia and the ability of traditional service providers to address those needs.

Like a dam bursting, the pandemic released an incredible volume of human needs all at once, and the nonprofit systems that deal with those front-line issues simply weren’t built for or prepared for such a volume.

In general, the volume of demand confronting nonprofits on the frontlines of human needs – from hunger and housing security to mental health, substance abuse issues, and domestic violence – has always been intense.

At the same time, nonprofits are dealing with the impact on their own operations. Nonprofits, too, have had to pivot to digital service provision, navigate staffing shortages, and weather all the other economic and operational issues that businesses have struggled with over the course of the pandemic.

In brief: Under pandemic conditions, our nonprofit direct-relief systems face a challenge that is almost superhuman. 

The result is that the whole of the social safety net – always an under-resourced system – is struggling. This is particularly true in Georgia’s rural communities, where services were already scarce and hard for citizens to access due to transportation or internet access issues.

However, in the midst of these pressures, nonprofit leaders are coming together to focus on accelerating services and lowering costs by improving their processes and better coordinating with other organizations. As a sector, we are building new and better planes while flying planes that have holes in their wings, broken bathrooms, and a passenger in every seat.

What are the gaps you think that business is best suited to help solve?

Nonprofits are generally strapped for money, time, and expertise. The vast majority of nonprofits – 85 percent – operate with less than $500,000 in annual revenue. Businesses can help as they always have, by contributing funds, sponsoring events, organizing volunteer groups, and promoting nonprofits in their marketing.

But what nonprofits increasingly need is help improving their systems, and that’s where businesses are in an especially great position to contribute.

By applying the skills and know-how they have on hand – to set up a database system implementation, craft social media campaign strategy, improve logistical processes, teach new project management software, etc. – businesses can make a huge positive difference in the effectiveness of nonprofits. Nonprofits have buildings and vehicles to maintain, staff to train, processes to optimize, legal work, HR issues, IT needs, and more. Even if a business doesn’t have money to give, it probably has some kind of expertise that a nonprofit can use. 

Setting up a “service grant” program is simple: Clearly describe the service or services you can donate, put your offer out into the world, and ask nonprofits to apply with a rundown of their needs. In just a few projects, you can leave a nonprofit in a much stronger position than you found them.

Of course, pursuing and promoting this kind of work helps your business as well: Letting your community spirit shine is heavily linked with employee and customer loyalty.

What do you see as the new, most effective elements to the best partnerships?

The issue for everyone right now is time: Nonprofits simply don’t have the time to act inefficiently or outside the scope of their most vital work. To me, that means the most effective partnerships are ones that are co-created and focused on the practical. 

What we see too often are partnerships designed in a vacuum, by a business or a nonprofit alone, that end up being too hard to manage or a forced fit. That is, the partnership might sound great until an actual person, or team of people, has to put the terms of it into action. 

A partnership is a negotiation of visions: What each partner needs to see in order to consider the effort a success. Businesses should consider the full arc of the solution (e.g. not just a website build, but ongoing training to help staff maintain it) and nonprofits should be explicit about their needs and limitations.

What are ways business and nonprofits need to rethink how they work together when it comes to grant-making, volunteerism, skills sharing, etc.

We need to see each other as the interdependent systems we truly are.

Thriving communities require businesses, nonprofits, and government working together. 

Historically, these three players have seen their roles separately, but the evidence is all around us. For instance, with talent shortages impacting businesses from airlines to power companies, nonprofits can become key partners in recruitment and retention: They supply workforce development, subsidized day care, family support services, and mental health care for worker reentry. They provide parks, entertainment, youth sports, senior care, and artistic outlets to create places where employees want to live and play. And they provide the healthcare services – hospitals, blood banks, scientific research, community health centers, support groups – that every single employee and customer will need at some point.

It’s true that communities need profitable businesses, but we should also acknowledge that everyone profits from nonprofits. We need each other to be successful. We believe that the new way of making impact is systems-level partnerships that bring together nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies to identify and collaboratively design solutions. We need more than just a grant or a volunteer day: We need a cooperative strategy designed by all three community partners that truly benefits us all.