Does your business connect with local nonprofits? What are the key components of a successful partnership between a business and a nonprofit?
Two local businesses, REI and W.R. Grace & Co., have partnered with the nonprofit Howard County Conservancy to the benefit of all. Below is their story.
A new retail store for REI (Recreational Equipment International) was set to open in Columbia during fall 2010. The company’s mission statement is: “We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of adventure and stewardship,” and Joe Hohn, manager of the new store, said this goal guides each of REI’s 120 stores “in seeking local community organizations that are active in stewardship of local natural areas so that they may partner with them in promoting the care of our precious open spaces.”
The Howard County Conservancy is a local, private, nonprofit environmental education center and land trust. Located on 232 preserved acres in Woodstock, the land serves as an education site for almost 7,000 students for field trips and almost 2,000 people for their walks/talks each year.
To make a nonprofit like this one successful, partnerships with local companies can be key. Strong partnerships involve more than money changing hands. Though every nonprofit needs money, many also benefit from local businesses through consulting or other expertise, providing a volunteer labor force and even hosting corporate events at the nonprofit’s location.
A partnership between REI and the Conservancy seemed a natural fit.
Hohn said the Conservancy “has been a terrific partner that we have connected with since before we opened our doors. Our staff has come together to give their time and effort to maintain natural areas and host a booth at their Fall Festivals.” When asked what benefit REI receives from this partnership, he said, “This builds teamwork among our staff and connects them to our mission in a real and positive way.”
Conservancy Executive Director Meg Schumacher Boyd was pleased with the work the REI employees were able to accomplish, including uncovering an historic stone wall that once served to separate farm fields.
“The stone wall REI restored was more than 100 years old. Now students and visitors can see this part of our farm’s history firsthand,” she said. “REI also removed many invasive plants to beautify this natural area.”
REI awarded the Conservancy a $10,000 grant to support its volunteer programs and nominated the Conservancy for an additional REI Gives grant in 2011. After applying for this grant, the Conservancy received financial support to offer a Maryland Master Naturalist class that trains volunteers to work on environmental projects in the area.
W.R. Grace & Co.
After meeting at the 2010 Howard County Volunteer of the Year awards ceremony, representatives from W.R. Grace and the Howard County Conservancy began forming a connection. Grace had received the award for Business Volunteer of the Year for its CommunityWorks program, which gives employees paid time off to volunteer in the community.
The company has robust sustainability and environmental outreach programs. Many sites have “Green Teams” composed of employee volunteers who search for ways to be more environmentally friendly.
Once again finding a match between the mission of the Conservancy and the focus of a local business, a meeting was set up to learn ways in which the two groups could work together. Ideas came easily among the Grace Green Team members and Conservancy staff — almost too many. Grace’s Green Team agreed to recruit volunteers to attend the Conservancy’s 2011 Earth Day event, which focused on service projects across the 232 acres.
Pamela Wagoner, trustee of the board of directors for the Grace Foundation (the company’s philanthropic affiliate), said, “These [volunteer] programs generate employee pride and camaraderie, support local communities, spur greater environmental awareness and drive wellness activities in meaningful ways.”
During volunteer recruitment, Grace created posters with photos of the Howard County Conservancy to hang in its offices, which helped increase awareness among employees. (It didn’t hurt that the pictures were beautiful landscapes.)
To deepen its connection with the Conservancy, the Grace Foundation funded a project to grow the Maryland Green School program in Howard County. With Grace’s support, the Conservancy was able to offer professional development opportunities for teachers for becoming a certified Maryland Green School, along with hosting a celebration of all the newly certified schools.
Find the Fit
Looking for the beneficial relationship between a business and a nonprofit is key to the long-term success of these partnerships. If the arrangement does not benefit both parties, it will not last.
Staff members from both organizations need to communicate for the partnership to grow and succeed in accomplishing any shared goals. As exemplified by the strong relationships between the Howard County Conservancy and REI and W.R. Grace, it make smart business sense to support local nonprofits.
Allison Anderson is development associate for the Howard County Conservancy. She can be reached at 410-465-8877.