The world is full of contradictions. The celebrities who trumpet their environmental warrior credentials from the deck of their luxury yacht; Jeff Bezos thanking Amazon employees for making his space dream come true whilst they work 10 hour shifts without a break; giant Freddos that actually aren’t that big at all.
You probably think that your non-profit has a lot of trust and credibility within the community because you’re a for purpose organisation and the only ones who care about making the world better. That might have been true once, but things are changing fast. The 2023 Edelman research shows that the pursuit of purpose by corporates is accelerating as they try to appeal to staff and customers and meet ESG measures. Non-profits used to be seen as more ethical, but corporates are closing the gap. Corporates are also viewed as significantly more competent than non-profits. 62% of people view business as the only trusted institution and business is considered the only institution that is both competent and trustworthy. Corporates and non-profits are starting to merge in the eyes of the public.
How can non-profits regain the trust of the community and show that they are up to the challenges of a world in crisis? They can start by walking the talk around purpose.
Health and wellbeing
Research by the Xfactor Collective and Equity Trustees shows that 45% of the NFP sector is experiencing burnout and fatigue. It’s not just the effects of COVID that mean people are working longer hours with less support. The sector has long expected talented people to work for less than the commercial rate of pay, with roles that are more than one person’s reasonable workload, for longer and often unsociable hours. Throw in the mix vicarious trauma for those working in disaster response or at the coalface with people desperately in need and you can see why a token EAP program isn’t going to make a dent. It’s been a self-serving notion among NFPs that people working for them will happily make sacrifices in pay and living standards for the privilege of doing something meaningful. It’s no longer a viable employee proposition with the cost of living soaring and corporates stepping firmly into space of social purpose. Non-profits are asking staff to work on the most difficult societal issues and make progress. Its time for NFP employees to be paid a fair market wage and be given appropriate support- or you’ll continue to see the drain of talent heading over to the corporate side of the fence.
Does your non-profit have a framework for ESG? They may not have shareholders keeping them in line, but the core elements still need careful attention. Corporates seeking non-profit partners are increasingly asking about the NFP’s credentials in ESG to determine whether they understand their own pressures and have some expertise to contribute. Non-profits can’t just say it doesn’t apply to them. Corporates want partners who are as embedded in ESG as they are, or how will you be able to give them the impact, outcomes and metrics that they desperately need?
RAP and gender equity
Reconciliation Action Plans, gender equity and diversity are hot topics for most corporates right now. What’s the response from your NFP? I once worked with an organisation that had a global campaign for empowerment of women but no females in the leadership team and no diversity at board level. Failing to walk the talk will only degrade the trust of the community and your future corporate partners. Corporates certainly haven’t got it right, but they are facing intense scrutiny and are scrambling to catch up. Claiming that you’re a non-profit, so inherently good, isn’t going to cut it. One of Australia’s largest philanthropic foundations cut ties with Melbourne University because it awarded honorary doctorates to six white men- for the third year running. What’s your narrative on diversity, equity and inclusion?
Authenticity and proof for GenZ and Millennials
Millennials and GenZ now dominate the workforce. This is the generation that grew up with the internet and they don’t lack awareness about societal issues. What they want is action. They will cast a critical eye over your non-profit to see whether you’re living the values that you espouse. If you’re looking to hire them for your organisation, be prepared to answer some tough questions. They want to be part of a success story and you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re making progress. They’ll also be asking about what you’re doing within your organisation to lead by example. The Great Resignation has in part been driven by the great search for purpose. If you can’t provide a place where Millennials and GenZ can live their purpose, they’ll find somewhere else.
In a digital world where everyone is under 24/7 scrutiny, non-profits should expect to be held to the same, if not higher standards than corporates. If you want to regain the lead on trust and competency, then start by getting the internal house in order and walking the talk.