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Collaborative Social Responsibility: The Real CSR

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Consumers increasingly want to give back, whether that means donating to their favorite nonprofit or buying a product from a responsibly-deemed company that partners with a NGO for a good cause; businesses have taken notice, which is why the growing corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement is not as obscure as it might have been in the past.

Companies have begun to translate employees' philanthropic fervor into workplace culture or successful giving campaigns. Some big players -- like Cisco, Microsoft and Accenture -- even dedicate an entire department or foundation to help reach companies' social goals and build relationships with humanitarian partners.

But CSR in its full glory has room for exploration (possibility even a better title that does not suggest that social responsibility is only limited to corporations). Take its influence on foundations, for instance; social responsibility is not a new concept for them, but CSR might cast a new light on their role in philanthropy. As individuals become increasingly aware of businesses' big-ticket involvement in social partnerships and work, foundations will be met with higher expectations for their involvement in the NGO-foundation relationship.

Foundations need to adopt a more strategic mindset, one that understands that there is much more to invest in a nonprofit than just a cash donation. At the Council on Foundation's Annual Conference this month, President and CEO Vikki Spruill said, "We have to think differently about how [foundations] are going to work with each other and with the public and private sectors. Gone are the days of one-off transactions. Going forward, partnerships across [the philanthropic] sector and other sectors will be at the core of the Council [of Foundation]'s work."

Ms. Spruill believes philanthropy is undergoing a dynamic transformation: rapidly evolving from the ideal of organized philanthropy shaped 100 years ago to one adapted for the modern world. Large corporations that place a great deal of time and interest in CSR are now matching the sizable contributions that were traditionally only able to be given by foundations. As a result, foundations might be forced to do a bit of soul-searching to find their unique value to nonprofits. But I think it's a blessing in disguise.

Foundations' natural value to the social sector truly rests with their insight and guidance, not their checkbook. A more collaborative NGO-foundation relationship can -- and will -- lead to better led and supported social missions, creating even bigger positive impacts for both sectors.

But like all honest relationships, the evolution takes time and effort. Foundations need to step into unconventional roles and projects to begin to cultivate those deep-rooted partnerships. Consider this week'sBusiness4Better (B4B) conference, a two-day event focused on bringing together corporations and nonprofits for CSR; NetHope, like many NGOs, was invited to showcase our mission and initiatives to the corporate leaders visiting the conference's exhibition. Our partner The Patterson Foundation saw real value in supporting NetHope's presence at the conference and suggested that we leverage its resources, personnel and expertise to enhance our engagement before, during and after the event.

The Patterson Foundation's partnership with NetHope reflects its true dedication to promoting collaboration -- both in theory and in practice. Foundations have so much practical value to offer nonprofits, and their leadership should be inspired to do so -- whether it is because they want to stand out as a CSR pacesetter or if they too see the value in nurturing their kindred partnerships with the social sector.

I thank The Patterson Foundation for its continued support of NetHope and commitment to collaborative partnership. I am excited to see corporations and foundations alike re-define roles in social benefit and join with nonprofits like NetHope and our member organizations in long-term relationships that breed positive results.