By Regenia Bailey / Guest Editorial
Running and managing a nonprofit is a challenging proposition because it’s a business model reliant, to a greater or lesser degree, upon human generosity. And there’s no time of year when this is more apparent than it is now. Our mailboxes, real and virtual, fill up with donation appeals. In many cases, the organizations and their appeals blend together with the other markers of December — like snow, sales flyers and reruns of “A Christmas Story” — appeals from nonprofit organizations are just part of the season.
Back in the day when cell phones were the size of concrete blocks and were only used for infrequent, expensive phone calls, my parents gave me a phone and a phone plan for Christmas. My new cellular company had inadequate cellular coverage, combined with abysmal customer service, so at the first opportunity, I switched companies. My new cellular company was small (remember, this was back in the day), but had great customer service, as well as a philanthropic commitment to providing cell phones to residents in our local domestic violence shelter. The cell phone business became the wireless business and this small company was purchased by a larger company. When my contract was up for renewal, I asked if the larger company continued to support the local domestic violence shelter and found that they did. In the past 20 years, I have never once considered taking my wireless business elsewhere. Yes, the customer service and services are great, but the added oomph that this company brings is its commitment to issues that I care about. With this customer, and I assume many others, their corporate philanthropy makes good business sense.
Philanthropy even makes good business sense from an individual point of view. We talk a lot about the importance of quality of life and a sense of place in the Corridor, but for a minute, let’s take a page from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and imagine what our communities would be like without our nonprofit organizations — no theatres, no art museums, no crisis lines or food pantries, no youth sports organizations. Most of the quality of life and the sense of place we enjoy here would be lost without the activities and presence of our local nonprofit organizations, turning our charming and vibrant Bedford Falls into Pottersville.
So, instead of immediately recycling those appeals, consider if you can make a donation to an additional organization or two this season. You might think about ways to incorporate your household’s or your business philanthropy as part of your year-end traditions. Some families make giving a family affair and hold a family meeting to discuss various organizations and select the ones they’ll support at the year’s end. Volunteering as a group or collecting clothing, food, or pet supply donations is a common activity in many of our area businesses. If you don’t have a philanthropy tradition in your workplace or your home, perhaps this is the year to start one. Providing opportunities for others to consider and participate in philanthropy is a great way to convey the value of our communities’ nonprofit organizations.
The Corridor is full of generous people and businesses committed to supporting our local nonprofit organizations. By and large, we recognize the significant role that these organizations play in our communities. But just as we know that it makes good business sense to support our local businesses and buy local, it also makes business sense to “give local” and even stretch a bit to support those organizations that play a central role in making the Creative Corridor the great place it is.
Regenia Bailey is a consultant and coach to nonprofits and small businesses at her firm, the Bailey Leadership Initiative. She is a former mayor of Iowa City and teaches business courses at Kirkwood Community College. For more information, visit www.baileyleadershipinitiative.com.