Boundaries in Social Impact

… how corporates can (unintentionally  or with the best motives) sometimes cause more harm than good.
Our view is that the funder/donor NPO relationship is an equal partnership – with the NPO extending an invitation to partner with them in their area of expertise – in our case that of skills development, social enterprise and job creation – with a social investor that is seeking change in society, sharing resources, networks and expertise where needed.
With this in mind it is very important that the NPO has a market relevant, clearly defined and ‘liveable’ mission and vision statement, along with a defined and applied set of values, as it is against this that you measure your boundaries and parameters of invitation and involvement. A corporate can either accept the organisations boundaries or try to impose their own on the NPO – invariably the latter leads to mission and values dilution, contradiction of development principles, and economics determining ethics and values.
The power imbalance, which is often inherent to most corporate-NPO relationships, finds expression through expectations (transparency and accountability etc) are unequal between the parties. This is often expressed in a denial of the corporate being accountable to the NPO for its own expenditure, sharing reports or philosophy of development.
When engaging with a funder it is important to have an understanding of each other’s expectations – a detailed memorandum of understanding including a monitoring, evaluation and value extraction plan needs to be agreed upon for both parties. It is here that a corporate can cause more harm than good with unrealistic expectations, as they consider their requirements through a fully resourced organisation, while the NPO has limited resources often splitting time and skills in different directions, along with the donor not wanting to fund admin as it is not a core activity. A highly complex memorandum can also create a need for documentation to be assessed by a legal expert – which comes at a cost. Most large corporates have this in-house, while for the NPO, it is yet another additional admin cost that funders don’t want to fund as it is not a core activity!
Requesting a NPO to partner in an area outside of their core focus is most often a distraction and a risk. A government department requested us to handle a programme intended to facilitate job creation but is was a glorified feeding scheme with no parameters, or exit strategy for the participants and none or limited and restrictive policies in place that often counter your development philosophy. The risks in this case were too numerous to overcome and was and should be avoided no matter how much acknowledgement is given to the NPO.
Your vision and mission must be an anchor and a rudder to measure the request against this. If it fits in those parameters then go for it, if not turn it down. Taking valuable human and financial resources away from your core focus is never in the best interest of any of the parties concerned.
When realistic boundaries are in place and both parties respect them, the result is a sustainable partnership that can be part of restoring a nation to wholeness.
The Learn to Earn was established in 1989. The organisation seeks to equip unemployed South Africans with practical skills and experience to secure a job and a successful career in the retail industry.

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