by Shari Finnell, editor, Not-for-Profit News

Even in the best of times, nonprofits can find it challenging to boost visibility, gain more donors and raise funds. Success often demands a complex mix of strategies, including annual fundraisers, email campaigns, and social media marketing, executed over an extended period of time.

Partnerships with businesses are proving to be a critical component in filling those gaps, according to several local nonprofits. These partnerships appear to be evolving in recent years, as businesses explore more ways to support nonprofits beyond matching gifts, sponsorships and annual fundraising campaigns.

Williams Comfort Air, a business that specializes in HVAC and plumbing, not only contributes to nonprofits with matching gift campaigns; it invests in marketing campaigns on their behalf. As part of its partnership with Outreach, Inc., which serves homeless youth, Williams Comfort Air hired professional production crews to develop radio spots and video productions and promoted the nonprofit’s story to larger audiences. 

First Person Advisors, a benefits and compensation advisory firm, recently established a foundation in partnership with Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) and Selflessly. The foundation will be funded through one percent of the company’s annual revenues, as well as matching of individual employee’s gifts of up to $1,000 a year each.

In keeping with a volunteerism tradition started in 2014, OneAmerica, this week, launched its Week of Caring at a time when volunteerism is significantly down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the volunteer efforts may look different due to social distancing requirements, OneAmerica associates are finding creative ways to donate their time, including hosting storytelling sessions for underprivileged youth and assisting with letter writing campaigns. 

The virtual format of Week of Caring also allowed associates to reach an unprecedented number of nonprofits.

“This is as hands-on as it can safely be, with associates creatively using the resources we have and maximizing technology, talent and teamwork,” said Jennifer Pittman, vice president, enterprise communications and community affairs at OneAmerica. “Nonprofit organizations need our help now more than ever, and while giving back may look different in 2020, we remain committed to our community volunteerism.” 

Business partnerships that extend beyond annual donations can have a significant impact, according to several local nonprofits.

“A lot of times businesses underestimate their influence,” said Jason Chenowith, CEO of Outreach, one of the nonprofits William Comfort Air has supported annually. “Helping us get in front of people who don’t know us is equally important as the donations we receive. As a nonprofit, you always need to get your name in front of new people. It’s an endless cycle as you try to get people exposed to what you do.”

The campaigns sponsored by Williams Comfort Air continue to open doors — long after they were first launched, Chenowith said. 

“There are times when I will introduce myself to people and they already know the name of Outreach. You can’t quantify the value and benefit of that,” he said. “We are very, very grateful for major donors but that’s not what keeps us alive. It’s an army of people who give $25 or $50 on a regular basis. When a business leverages its social power, it can make a big difference. It allows us to build relationships among individuals.”

Heather Parker, director of development communication for The Julian Center, another nonprofit supported by Williams Comfort Air, said a committed business sponsorship is critical for numerous reasons. 

“When employers are willing to reach out to their employees on their own behalf it exposes us to donors we normally wouldn’t have,” Parker said. “Secondly, nonprofits are able to tap into sizable amounts of money that are unrestricted. It gives the agency more flexibility to cover things they might not have otherwise. That’s a great benefit.”

Matt Tyner, director of marketing for Williams Comfort Air, said that the company seeks to get a better understanding of a charity because they want to share how donations are making an impact. 

“We want to see them come to life,” he said. “A lot of companies are hesitant to promote their community giving, thinking it may come across as not being humble. It should be considered an opportunity to engage their donor bases. As a result of hearing those stories, some donors decide to become annual givers.”

After listening to the charities they serve, Williams Comfort Air also launched summer giving campaigns to offset revenue shortfalls during a slow fundraising period for many organizations. “There’s a lot of giving at the end of the year and at the beginning of the year,” Tyner said. “That’s why we put a significant amount of our giving into the summer months. We want to be a bit of a bridge during the periods where there’s less giving.”

When the pandemic hit, the financial support from Williams Comfort Air helped nonprofits continue to serve their communities at a critical time, he said.

Taking more creative approaches to business-nonprofit partnerships not only benefit nonprofit agencies, said Mark Minner, president and chief strategy officer for First Person Advisors. Developing avenues for employees to support nonprofits can impact morale and foster a sense of fulfillment as part of their employment with a company.. 

“From our experience, that’s just how people are wired. Giving back is really important in their lives and they expect their employer to have that same type of commitment.” Minner said. “As an employer, we have a unique opportunity and role to facilitate opportunities to make their dollars go further faster … to make more of an impact,”

First Person Advisors had already committed to developing a foundation before the global pandemic reached Indianapolis. Working in partnership with CICF and Selflessly, the advisory firm decided to accelerate the launch of the foundation as needs in the community grow.

Minner said other businesses interested in developing a deeper commitment to nonprofits can start with matching programs, if they don’t already have one in place. Establishing a foundation can take significantly more effort, but the impact is so much greater than the time to set it up, he said.

“It really has a significant return in terms of the level of connectivity people feel to the organization,” Minner said. “We can help employees make a difference. It’s great to hear stories from our employees about how appreciative they are to be able to help people.”