Volunteer leaders assemble in a conference room for training. They are excited to be there. The firm has approved their project, and in a few months time, their peers will load buses on their way to make the project they planned a reality for an organization they love. Others will attend projects planned by Chicago Cares both on site at the firm, but also across the city. The partnership means that not only does critical work get completed in the community, but through Chicago Cares, Deloitte associates learn how to build a project for an organization whose mission they themselves are passionate about.

That passion does not die out when the last bus of volunteers arrives back at the doors of the corporate office. The passion lives on, as does the service that they seeded in their colleagues that day.

Companies like Deloitte do not do corporate service as part of a marketing plan. Deloitte does Impact Day because the firm believes in service, and knows that commitment to strengthening communities strengthens their business. Deloitte knows that investing in high school students now is an investment in their future associates as well as the community they live and raise their own family in, which is why their Corporate Social Responsibility goals focus on supporting education and decreasing dropout rates.

Deloitte is just one company of many that have committed to sweat equity in the community.

Business is in the business of business. They are not in the business of philanthropy. They do not exist to solve society’s problems. And yet, many companies show up.

Many companies show up to serve and to support their communities. Many companies have Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives or foundations. Many companies are thoughtful about how they impact the world and how it feels as a person to work for an organization that invests in their community.

And many community organizations need their help to achieve their mission goals.

NCVS was an example of this. Toyota sponsored a volunteer business track at the conference. They had their logo on a few things, a car in the exhibition hall, and a chance to speak about how they engage their communities using what they know as a corporation that is both innovative and also efficient. While being a sponsor of the business track has some marketing perks, they probably won’t sell a lot more cars because of it.

So why say yes? Toyota was excited to stand on stage in front of their peers to talk about how they helped a non-profit streamline their production using proven Toyota processes so that families on the Gulf were in their new homes after 6 weeks instead of 6 months. THAT is meaningful impact.

Toyota was excited about what they had discovered and wanted the chance to share. They wanted other companies to see what they see, to learn what they learned.

It reframed for me, as an experienced non-profit professional, what a company could contribute to my organization, especially when paired with what I know about the community and the needs I see every single day. The partnership between the Non-Profit and a Corporation brings together the best of each to make the communities we share stronger.

The Chase Seeds For Change project at conference resulted in 500 garden kits that will go to 95 different schools who currently have gardens or garden space but no shovels, no seeds, no way to engage the students in using the garden as a learning tool. Now those schools have that resource. Three of those schools received gardens on their grounds because Seeds For Change volunteers built them.

Chicago Cares could not afford to pay for a single kit, a single seed, a single trowel, a single bag of soil, a single plant for Schmid Elementary School without Chase underwriting the Seeds For Change project.

It is easy these days to cast Corporations in the role of villain. It is easy to sit and type out an angry post about how marketing has gone too far. It is easy to say that companies are in it for themselves. Admit that it is a little fun to cast yourself as the David to their Goliath and to say that all funding should be purely altruistic.

But the rest of us live in the real world, with real need, and real responsibilities and very real bills to pay. When mission meets interest of a corporate funder, it would be bad business to turn away that dollar because promoting the brand through a marketing initiative makes their motives for service not pure enough for you.

As companies evolve their corporate social responsibility programs to meet business needs, non-profits can be there to marry those interests with the needs we see in the community; in fact, it is our responsibility to do so.

Today’s post is by Kris Smart, Chicago Cares Vice President of Programs