A Gap in understanding?

Why is corporate outreach so hard? I am asked this a lot – most will blame the nonprofit ngo staff for meting lousy at pr and marketing. I do not deny the lack of people with skill and experience in this area however there is a certain level of condescension.

Then there is just a lack of understanding in general that this is a profession. This is a career not a hobby. But that applies not just to people in the nonprofit NGO sector but also consultants – who do you work for? That question is only hard to answer because there is an expectation that if you do not work for a large and famous org then you are pursuing a hobby.

Let me share a personal story. I went to a CSR event in March where I met many people from many companies. Among the people I met was a person from a certain well-known American apparel company who contacted me shortly after the event. I was asked to meet.

I was asked about coming to my office but since we do not have a meeting space and I share with 5 groups I thought it would be better to go to the corporate office. I was encouraged by the idea that they were interested in developing a local community engagement program.

I went to the office at 9:30 on a weekday morning. I prepared info on what I do and the type of work I have done in the past. I thought I was finally getting good at explaining in what do for a living. I also thought about how much wanted to say in my first meeting, as I tend to give too much info in the first meeting. (Keep them wanting to know more!)

At some point when we were talking about different type of community engagement programs – I had to say that I did not mind brainstorming but I could not outline a project plan for them now and here – that is my work. So before I do anything like that I would need to discuss goals, time frame, budget and terms.

The shock on the persons face is funny now. I realize she felt very uncomfortable and tried to make a stupid joke.

She eased up and said, “I think we have a misunderstanding.”

I go to a major corporate office on a weekday for a meeting - why might this be anything but work?

The rest of the conversation was a bit stilted and short. I introduced my volunteer group event – they do not have any policy in J for donations. In the use they do they go through gifts in kind but they have not system in J. they only give to nonprofits and could not hire me. (If there is no system in place then where did this come from?)

Could I introduce a group doing X? I did.

I tried to make things smooth and followed with email saying thanks and I hoped we could work together. I dig the first meeting and nothing happens. I do not dig the idea that I might be asked to work as a volunteer at a multi-billion dollar corp.

This is not the first time I have been asked to give advice as a favor. I have given several talks and joined various meetings – without me really knowing these were to be favors. Lets see if the favor is returned.

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