We know that not-for-profits often operate on a lean and mean basis and many are stuck in a vicious starvation cycle. We also understand the importance of training talented people, keeping the lights on and making an impact on the community. But do we understand what it takes for not-for-profits to thrive and how corporations can best match their purpose, values and capabilities to create systemic change?

I believe it comes down to developing strong, meaningful and relevant relationships that reduce power dynamics across sectors and encourage leadership teams to take the time to think and reflect about what change really means. However, this is easier said than done.

For many of us, this kind of thinking involves linking an organization’s core competencies with community sector needs. This means developing a shared language to build consensus amongst complex stakeholder groups, and then developing a logical path forward by keeping the end in mind. Many of us become obsessed with socio-economic outcomes of the impact of our work – but what if trying to define creating value in this way is holding us back?

People and organizations must focus on articulating the connection between achieving long-term economic value and developing widespread social capital: understanding how any organization’s core purpose and values are integrated within its organizational strategy. In the context of big business, this kind of thinking takes corporate social responsibility one step further and goes beyond embedding good environmental, social, and governance accountabilities into its operations.

In the context of community engagement, this means working directly with community stakeholders to understand and articulate how a business’ core services can have a material impact on the world around them.

At an organization like PwC, for example, this means helping employees use their professional skills to work with boards and leadership teams at Canadian not-for-profits to strengthen financial accountability through good governance. It’s also about providing people with the tools and resources they need to have meaningful conversations with executive teams. Examples could include sample ‘plans on a page’ outlining a strategic plan, or helping to craft key messages for organizations to use when speaking with stakeholders or the media about their important work. It’s win-win.

The question becomes how leaders in any sector can harness this kind of thinking to help articulate what change looks like in a productive way, instead of focusing on what doesn’t work or what isn’t understood amongst one another.

If you can hit the mark, you’re a catalyst for change.


James Temple leads Corporate Responsibility efforts at PwC and is considered one of Canada’s leading voices on corporate social innovation and speaks internationally about how businesses and communities can work together to use their skills, voices and relationships to become catalysts for change. He has been featured in articles and videos for TED, the Globe and Mail, Forbes.com, Strategy Magazine and Canadian Business. A committed volunteer, James shares his expertise as part of the not-for-profit committee of the Risk Oversight and Governance Board for CPA Canada and advisory groups for the United Way of Canada and Havergal College.


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