Q: Do corporate partners ever unintentionally offend the communities they are trying to serve, and if so, how do you navigate this?
JS: Sometimes it’s the little decisions that people don’t think about that really matter. At all of our playground builds, we serve lunch, and it’s the responsibility of the community to make sure there’s lunch for all the volunteers. A potluck may not be the first choice for a corporate event, but if it provides an opportunity for the community –and these are often people who don’t have significant means –to contribute and showcase their talents and their culture, then it’s the right thing to do. We try and help our corporate partners see why decisions like that matter to the community when the first instinct may be, “let’s make sure everyone has really delicious food from the local restaurant,” as opposed to “this is an opportunity for the community to shine.”
JH: At times, corporate partners are very focused on brand visibility. Brand placement within education and learning environments can be distracting, so whenever we go into a community or a school district, we listen and learn what is appropriate. Then we can guide how to best and authentically design learning spaces that simultaneously honor and recognize the “brand” of a benefactor/corporate partner, while accomplishing what is needed for the beneficiaries.
Q. In your opinion, what makes a “good” corporate partner?
JH: Listening ... building community support and giving both what is truly needed for the community and for the business. Remaining thoughtful on how the corporation uses their resources for good, how they build, structure and evolve their giving program and devote their team members’ time and talent in the right places.
GJ: Authentic leaders. The more that the culture resonates with the desire to impact communities and give back, and the more the company’s leaders are espousing those values, the easier it is to do really cool things. Also, it’s great to have clarity on what the program goals are, what’s driving it – is it employee engagement? Is it impacting education? And lastly, we love when partners come with a spirit of partnership and adaptability - a willingness to flex based on what a company is learning in the process.
JS: If the partner is interested first and foremost in how its brand will show up, that can lead to challenges. But if the partner comes to the table saying we’re here to make a difference in a community where our employees work or our stakeholders live, that really is the key to success. The best corporate partners are driven by authentic engagement and the desire to make a real, tangible difference.