Community Improvement and Corporate Responsibility go Hand-in-Hand

As a nonprofit organization serving Chicago’s most at-risk populations, Thresholds has had a long tradition of community partnerships with various businesses and other nonprofit agencies. These partnerships are based upon a mutual understanding that community improvement and corporate responsibility go hand-in-hand, moving far beyond the idea of basic volunteerism.

Encouraging and rewarding employees for their volunteer, philanthropic and advocacy efforts for nonprofit organizations gives businesses a unique chance to be further involved in community building. In addition, many businesses have developed policies and protocols to allow employees great flexibility in their endeavors to pursue opportunities for every aspect of community enhancement -“ be it through fundraising opportunities through sponsorships, running teams or special events; hands-on volunteerism such as Habitat for Humanity; or campaigning for causes.

The key to building corporate responsibility programs that work lies in the partnerships created through those programs. For instance, Thresholds has had a 14-plus year relationship with Banana Republic and The Gap. Employees from both businesses volunteer in every capacity possible -“ whether decorating for the holidays at a residence or program or helping overhaul UrbanMeadows, a floral shop owned by Thresholds that employs people with disabilities.

Additionally, those volunteer hours translate to actual financial donations to our organization. In turn, Banana Republic and The Gap have hired numerous consumers of Thresholds’ services -“ persons with disabilities -“ with great success. In short, the partnership is an amazing display of the power of community-building from a corporate giant such as Gap Inc., and a community provider such as Thresholds.

Equally engaging is a partnership Thresholds has with PWC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers). During a team-building exercise, new employees of PWC are charged with putting together bicycles. However, the exercise doesn’t stop with the construction of the bikes. The bicycles are then donated to local charities -“ Thresholds included -“ so that people in need have a bicycle. These wheels for Thresholds’ consumers translate to freedom through a mode of transportation and an outlet for exercise.

As a business, Thresholds also encourages volunteerism of its own employees as well as community activism. In addition, Thresholds employees regularly seek out other potential community partners to engage them in an understanding of corporate and community responsibility. Because Thresholds works with persons who are disabled from a severe mental illness, these partnerships help to alleviate and eliminate stigma about mental health issues, as well as educate people about recovery services available to those afflicted.

Encouraging volunteerism and community partnerships is a win-win for companies. While there are inherent tax incentives for this work (especially through direct financial donations and philanthropy), there is plenty of incentive for the heart as well. Employees who are engaged in the process of community responsibility and partnerships with nonprofits become more engaged in the company. This sense of accomplishment builds stronger teams, better employees and more socially aware citizens.

Finally, companies and their leadership are recognized in the community as caring leaders who believe in the most important investment -“ human beings. Whatever population an organization serves, or even the type of organization (such as arts, humanities, human services or education), employees and corporate leadership can feel good about the decision to make an impact through volunteerism, philanthropy and advocacy.

Daniel Billingsley is director of communications at Thresholds, a nonprofit organization serving Chicago’s at risk populations. He can be reached at [email protected]. Thresholds is a 2010 and 2011 winner of Chicago’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.