In my fifteen years as an audio engineer for a major media organization and as a volunteer educator for youth media programs, I have seen both sides of the relationship between corporations and community based organizations (CBOs). In a down-turned economy, equitable partnering can be a tall order; however, with some basic knowledge of the landscape, good strategic planning, and a clear assessment of what both sides have to gain, CBOs can end up with much more by partnering with corporations than they might achieve from a grant application.
Moreover, community-based youth media programs have a major advantage when it comes to corporate partnerships: documentation. Not only is documentation a natural outcome of every project we do, but having a documentarian or documentation team filming a project, interviewing participants, and editing the package is great training in itself.
Corporate Social Responsibility: A Win-Win for Corporations and Youth Media
Youth media organizations seeking partnerships with corporations can take advantage of the movement in business toward Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Practiced by many larger corporations, CSR was designed to “meet or exceed the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that society has of business” (Wikipedia’s definition). CSR became better known throughout the 80’s and 90’s with the concept of the “Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profit.” In terms of money, socially responsible investment has risen over 324% from $639 Billion in 1995 to over $2.71 Trillion in 2007 (1).
For youth media organizations, this investment represents corporations as an untapped source of funding. For corporations, demonstrating a commitment to youth media can be a creative new way to achieve their goals: gain customer loyalty, enhance their brand value, differentiate their reputation, and better attract and retain employees.
Moreover, since young people specifically are a target for most CSR initiatives, youth media can introduce corporations to the work force’s next generation, while giving young people a chance to be part of a professional experience. The company will not necessarily recruit employees directly from the program, but it is an easy way for young people to become aware of potential career paths and have some exposure to the necessary skills they will need to acquire.
Once youth media establishes a relationship with a corporation, it is often easy to arrange job shadowing, speakers, and mentoring—great ways to build relationships from the ground up and opportunities that carry great value on both ends.
Here are a few questions that CSR departments look for when selecting new partners:
• How efficient is the organization?
• Are they quick responders when communicating?
• How does the staff present themselves?
• Is there a prior relationship with the company?
• What relationships exist with other companies? (proven successes)
• What personal relationships exist?
• Does this fit a current corporate cause?
• What can the organization do for the company, in terms of finances, volunteerism, and recognition (for instance, if Company X funds a radio show, do they get a ‘sponsored by’ message on every broadcast?)
• Are any groups of employees already volunteering? Is a higher level employee active on their board?
Corporate Volunteering: Creating a Link between Youth Media Organizations and Corporations
In general, CSR departments are highly selective as they partner with an organization. Instead of immediately pursuing a grant request, youth media organizations may find it worthwhile to start small and explore Corporate Volunteerism.
Teambuilding. Companies are much more likely to offer financial contributions to organizations that can show a history of employee involvement, especially in terms of teams. For instance, a youth media organization may engage a team to enhance a company’s website, make a promotional video, or interview company founders. All of these examples provide a solid benefit to the company and can easily be reflected in its performance reviews and/or year-end goals.
Youth media organizations may find that a great question to dig into with the company’s CSR office is what volunteer teambuilding opportunities have been successful in the past, and what projects may be good targets that fit both the organization’s and the company’s needs. Youth media organizations in particular provide great models of team work through their peer-to-peer support and peer-to-adult mentorships. These models can be applied to employee-involvement events.
Micro-volunteering. Youth media organizations might also make use of micro-volunteering: volunteering done in very small, manageable pieces.
For instance, one great micro-volunteering opportunity for a youth media organization might be to create a web application that empowers people to identify and collectively micro-fund small community projects (similar to www.kiva.org (2)).
Users can describe community cleanup or citizen reporting efforts, obtain microgrants to fund them, perform the services, and post the results. On the end-user side, donors can sort through project proposals, pick one they like, and with a few clicks collaboratively micro-fund the project.
Tied to a blog, the application could also afford users, funders, and the entire community to see the results in pictures, words, and even video.
In general, corporate volunteer projects should include at least some of the following criteria:
• Is youth media related
• Creates jobs and/or community service hours for participants
• Builds funds and resources for the youth media organization
• Gains publicity for both the youth media organization and the corporation
• Helps to train package producers (people who prepare the finished media piece)
It is my experience that when community-based organizations re-engage the corporation for another project or for funding, they can point out that the initial project was well-organized with clear objectives, provided a fun way for employees to bond, and required minimal time and preparation.
Be Open to New, Equitable Relationships
Achieving equitable relationships between community-based youth media organizations and corporations requires both sides to make sure they get the resources they need, achieve the desired results, and provide a major benefit to the organizations’ dynamics, especially in terms of skill development and teambuilding. Hopefully these approaches can open up some new relationships that will benefit the youth media field for many years to come.
Selah Abrams is a broadcast production engineer at Turner Studios in Atlanta, GA and a leader of NextGen Business Resource Group, that evolves the businesses in new and diverse directions. Selah is very active in the new media and social media fields, including entertainment, journalism, and community-based organizing, and recently won the inaugural CNN MyHero award for A Guiding Hand, a male mentoring program with participants from the Fulton County, GA juvenile court. In the mid-90’s, Selah co-founded Uprising!, a CBO based in the West End of Atlanta that trained homeless men to rehab and occupy abandoned houses, and ran a network of community gardens that provided food to the community.
(1) Social Investment Forum’s 2007 Report on Socially Responsible Investing Trends
in the United States http://www.socialinvest.org/resources/pubs/documents/FINALExecSummary_2007_SIF_Trends_wlinks.pdf.
(2) Kiva Microfunds is an organization that allows people to lend money via the Internet to microfinance institutions in developing countries which in turn lend the money to small businesses. Modeling after this site is recommended due to the clean, intuitive, appealing design and quick transactional process.