Making A (Collective) Difference

It’s the little things that count - when you add up the small efforts of many, they can create real change. As consumers, we adopt simple behaviors that can make a collective difference; turn off the faucet, pick up a piece of trash, buy a product that donates to a cause, recycle a soda can. When times are tough and cash donations are in short supply, how can companies adopt this concept to make a difference in society?

While cash remains critical to any nonprofit’s ability to fulfill its mission, this recession has led to innovative examples of companies leveraging assets, beyond cash, to solve social problems. Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University notes that many companies wanting to conserve cash have shifted from financial donations to in-kind contributions – taking a little and making it into something bigger.

Some companies offer employees a few hours time to volunteer for nonprofits, which combined can amount to hundreds of hours in professional services otherwise unaffordable. Others are donating new or unused materials that meet the needs of nonprofits, which when taken collectively can have big results.

In an interesting new approach to in-kind, a group of airline financiers has established a program called ISTAT AirLink that allows easy donation of unreserved airline seats and cargo space to causes who need to get volunteers and supplies abroad. The program brings together several airline carriers with excess space, offering valuable resources to nonprofit organizations.

A key part of this program’s success is the centralized organization, which allows aid agencies to list people, medicine and supplies they need shipped on a Web site, and permits airlines to post spare seats or cargo space. The result; nonprofits get people and resources on the ground, and companies are able to put to harness space which would otherwise be vacant. There is small added investment for the airline – extra cargo handling or passenger service – but the benefit to the nonprofit is huge. As airline financier and founding member Bob Brown notes, "If we can save an NGO a dollar in cost, that should flow right through to the people they're serving."

What excess capacity does your organization hold, and how can it be put to use for the greater good?


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