We're pleased to share this blog from Purpose Collaborative member Catalist.
Often in the world of business, we see a lull of activity in the summer – kids are off from school, summer vacations become a reality, and some of our favorite restaurants swing open and start patio service in some of the colder parts of our cities. It is tempting to let your work come to a halt… or at least slow down a beat. But in the world of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy, summer can be the most important and demanding time for your critical thinking, decision-making, and strategic planning. Too often, we see corporations and nonprofits come to us and admit that what they did (or didn’t do) over the summer had a direct and lasting impact on their following fiscal year.
Right from the mouths of our corporate and nonprofit customers, the top 5 reasons that summer matters to their business:
1. Budgeting cycles / allocations
With many companies on a January fiscal, we see budgets tied up early in planning. Even if a company is on a March or July fiscal, these budgets get allocated early in the year as the social impact professional work to block out their strategic tentpoles for the year. On the nonprofit side, if you are not engaged in conversations during the summer, you miss the clear budgeting window. But on the corporate side as well, if you wait until the last minute to put a stake in the ground about what partners you want to work with (who to keep, new targets, refining current programming), you run the risk of your target partners swooped up by your competitors or even not having enough funding to really execute your partnership programs well. Too few dollars lead to too little impact, and little to no awareness for your employees, consumers, and stakeholders. It’s a lot of work to execute late in the year if there is no impact.
2. Conversations (and contracts!) take time
Once our social impact teams find the right issues to care about that map to their employees, consumers, and shareholders, they then reach out to on average 5-10 nonprofit partners to help bring their vision to life. With so many people involved in partnership conversations (and rightfully so!), these conversations take a while to go back and forth, get people up to speed, provide relevant and timely information. And then when conversations get to the contract stage, our social impact clients let us know how lengthy this process can take with lawyers involved. Over two thirds of our clients let us know that the average time to plan and execute a partnership agreement is 4-6 months and takes twice as long as they had anticipated. If you start now in June, you are right in that 6-month window.
3. Summer Vacation!
With so many holidays in the summer and so many vacations planned, this is a supplemental area to #2 above – other people are out of the office too. All too often, we have corporate teams reach out to nonprofits to explore a match opportunity and they find out that their target individual is on vacation for two weeks – and needless to say, their VP usually wants an answer within that two-week window. About half of our social impact customers have told us that they wished they had started the process earlier in the year, with March-June as the sweet spot to start conversations.
4. Execution takes time
Once the selection process is complete, our social impact professionals find themselves quickly move from the what to the how – this is where it gets really interesting! Enter digital teams, media planners, designers, retail locations, and more. Like any other campaign – marketing, new product launch – these nonprofit partnerships take time, creative thinking, and commitment to the details. Once a week, we hear our social impact teams tell us that they wish they would have brought their account management and marketing team members to the table sooner – too often key execution team members were included too little and too late, resulting in stress, missing programmatic pieces, and execution elements falling through the cracks.
5. Establishing KPIs is complex and requires clear inputs to achieve clear outputs
And of the utmost importance – why do we work within the corporate + nonprofit space everyday? The majority of the social impact professionals we work with tell us the same thing – to do the most good and create the most meaningful impact. To do that requires time to craft the right KPIs and establish benchmarks for pre/post-campaign analysis. In our work on Social Return on Investment with corporations, we map out these conversations for months prior to the execution of a key campaign – collecting 10-12 various inputs to measure success and define impact is hard work and takes robust planning and insights. Measuring impact and defining success is way too important to leave to the last minute – selecting 5 clear KPIs is where our corporate customers see the biggest focus of investment.
Don’t let these top five scare you! The beauty of the summer is that since overall business slows down, it is the key timing to put serious thought against planning, execution, and the impact you want to make in this world with the weight of your social responsibility department behind you.
A little work in each area of the top five every day will get you to where you want to be – and some serious insights and decision-making over the next two months will set you up for success in 2019. Enjoy patio dining this summer, but don’t take the summer off – stay ahead of where you need to be.