05/19/2011 03:56 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2011

Triple Impact: How Corporations, Consumers and Nonprofits Can Work Together to Make a Difference

Over the past decade, there has been a quiet sea of change in the way we think about giving.

Throughout most of societal history, there were two organized entities concerned with human well-being: government and faith-based groups. Then, as the country and the world became increasingly interconnected during the 20th century, a third entity -- the nonprofit organization -- joined this list. Groups like the Red Cross, Easter Seals, United Way and many others started to play a vital role in improving people's lives and strengthening communities.

Today, we can add one more entity to this list: the corporation. Of course, the concept of a company giving back to its community is not brand new. What is new is the idea that a policy of corporate social responsibility is increasingly important to local communities, and that by joining forces, corporations, consumers and nonprofits can triple our impact.

The importance of corporate social responsibility is becoming a widely accepted tenet of both business development and charitable giving, and it has already changed the way people think about corporations.

In 2007, the Cone Cause Evolution and Environmental Survey confirmed that consumers and employees increasingly expect companies to support social causes.

Last year, Azeem Ibrahim wrote that, according to a McKinsey survey, 95 percent of CEOs believe society has higher expectations that firms will take on public responsibilities than it did five years ago.

So what's going on here? Have American companies suddenly had a change of heart and realized profit isn't everything? I'd like to think there's at least a little bit of that, but there's also another factor: companies know that being socially responsible is good for the bottom line.

According to the CSR Branding Survey 2010, 75 percent of those who have read about a company's social responsibility agenda online say it made them more likely to purchase products or services from the company in the future. If giving back pleases your employees, your customers, and your community, it's pretty much a no-brainer.

Goodwill Industries®, a nonprofit organization that has been serving local communities for nearly 110 years, encourages this development. In 2010, we launched the Donate Movement, a corporate social responsibility platform and public awareness initiative that focuses on the positive impact donating has on both people and the planet.

Major corporate brands such as Family Circle, Hanes, Levi's and Planet Green have joined us by reaching out to their customers and highlighting the power of donated goods to make a difference in people's lives, strengthen communities and create a healthier environment by diverting used goods from landfills.

Our newest partner in the Donate Movement is Gap Inc. From May 19 to 29, all Gap stores in the United States and Canada will accept clothing donations in support of the Donate Movement. These donations will support the Goodwill® mission of providing job training programs and employment placement services to the people who need them most.

As a thank you, customers who bring in clothes to support the Donate Movement will receive 30 percent off their Gap purchases that day -- including items from babyGap, GapKids and GapBody. Gap is also providing volunteers for one of many Goodwill's volunteer initiatives in communities nationwide.

Although each of us -- Goodwill, Gap Inc, and you -- can make an impact on our own, by working together our power to make a difference increases exponentially.

The Donate Movement is just one of the many ways that corporations, consumers and nonprofits are working together to improve people's lives and strengthen their communities. As local governments struggle with budgets and politicians in Washington argue over which social welfare programs are worth keeping, corporate social responsibility is becoming more and more vital to the success of organizations like Goodwill and the communities we serve.

If you believe in the power of corporate social responsibility, you can do your part to help grow the movement. If you work for a corporation, take the time to tell your CEO or human resources director that you expect your company to give back to your community. Before you shop, take a few extra minutes to find out which companies are putting in the extra effort to make a difference.

Also, don't forget about the difference you can make personally. On the Donate Movement website you can use our Donation Impact Calculator to determine exactly how much of a difference your donation -- no matter how large or small -- will make in people's lives.

For example, when you donate three pairs of jeans, Goodwill can provide 30 minutes of career counseling to Americans looking for work. You can also help spread the word by donating your profile to let your friends know that you support donating responsibly.

We all seek to make a difference, but when corporations, consumers and nonprofits work together, our impact triples.