Thoughtful, Strategic Engagement Benefits Both Companies and Nonprofits


Recently, the Puget Sound Business Journal published their annual list of top philanthropic companies. Many of those on the list are good friends and supporters of Northwest Harvest, for which we’re extremely thankful.

We’ve noticed that companies are becoming more strategic about philanthropy and their corporate social responsibility. Increasingly, they expect to see a real return on their investment in a nonprofit’s work by looking for outcomes in defined focus areas. Far from shying away from greater accountability, smart nonprofits are welcoming a more strategic approach to philanthropy. It offers benefits to both companies and nonprofits, and, at its very best, will enhance our work to better serve our communities.

Hundreds of staff and volunteers from our hunger relief partners across Washington learned more about this last month during our Annual Conference through Keynote Speaker Fraser Nelson, workshops and collaborative discussions. The Annual Conference is one of my favorite days of the year, offering the chance to come together in one place with so many front-line agencies that partner with us in the fight against hunger.
Not surprisingly, food banks are eager to partner with companies. But companies benefit also, from enhanced employee satisfaction, stronger customer preference and loyalty, and a brand that is perceived as being more responsive to the community, all of which please shareholders.

On our side, we’ve found that the expertise of engaged corporate partners may be as valuable as the donations they can give. When Northwest Harvest, with the help of state and private funding, built the “Warehouse for Washington” in Kent just five years ago, it was designed as a state-of-the-art processing center, capable of repacking and distributing 35 million pounds of food to programs across Washington. Today, food bank demand, and our response, is at an all-time high. Fortunately the Warehouse for Washington is more than adequate to serve partner food banks, thanks in great part to the foresight, knowledge and leadership of our Board members and other volunteers.
This year, volunteers will donate more than 100,000 hours—a full 42 percent of our entire workforce—to Northwest Harvest, serving on the front lines at our Cherry Street food bank in downtown Seattle or at one of our warehouses in Kent, Yakima and Spokane.  
Volunteers—whether corporate groups or individuals—want well-run experiences that are meaningful and that provide a sense of accomplishment and pride. Experiences such as providing someone in need with a meal.  From the third-grade student,  to 94-year-old Ernie (see page 6), to the corporate VP packing boxes of beans, at the end of your shift, hearing how many meals you helped provide is a huge “wow moment”—exhilarating and humbling.

In the end, building a stronger community must be a mutual goal of corporations and nonprofits. After all, more stable families mean a more able workforce today. Children who are succeeding in school mean a more competitive workforce tomorrow. In short, moving people out of crisis into stability has a direct impact on the health and productivity of our entire community.

What strategic corporations and nonprofits alike are learning is to more clearly communicate the impact they are making and look for more innovative ways to partner to reach mutual goals.  Without companies, individual donors and our great volunteers, Northwest Harvest couldn’t do what we do—provide 1.7 million meals a month to hungry people across Washington.

We are grateful for each of you, and to your thoughtful approach to philanthropy that sustains us in our mission to provide nutritious food free to those in need in a manner that respects their dignity while together we fight to eliminate hunger.