Da Vinci Was An Engineer Too

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 13th, 2009 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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I am desperately trying to find something positive to blog about, but I fear I cannot.  So, maybe this could be perceived as a mixed message. 

The Conference Board recently surveyed corporations to understand the current thinking on corporate giving.  So, the predictable bad news:  45 percent of the 189 companies that responded said they’d already reduced their corporate giving budgets for 2009 and another 16 percent anticipated doing so.  But the not so bad news:  that leaves another 40 percent that have not yet reduced their budgets or have yet to even anticipate such a move.  Yay!  And for nonprofits that work in the areas of the environment, sustainability and climate change issues, the news might even be considered down right positive:  28 percent of the respondents said they were actually going to increase their donations in these areas.  Mission change anyone? (kidding!)  

Carolyn C. Cavicchio, the senior researcher on this study, says this focus on funding is simply a case of donations following the interests of the businesses.  So, what’s new about that?  We’ve been watching businesses become much more focused with their giving over the last 10 years or more.  They’ve been aligning their giving with their needs:  more and more companies give to workforce development as it relates to the particular needs they see in their future employees.   What’s wrong with that?  Many donors have vested interests:  family and friends are often motivated to give to the health issues that affect themselves and those they love—cancer, mental health, MS, and so on. 

But where might this trend by businesses leave those nonprofits which don’t serve the development of future employees of America?  Think again.  Do you really not contribute?  Decades ago, a major engineering university was perplexed.  They were graduating highly skilled and qualified engineers who were immediately scooped up by eager employees.  But a follow-up study of their graduates to see how they progressed years later did not reveal welcomed results.  The university found that its graduates weren’t doing as well in the promotions department and weren’t moving up the ladder as hoped.  Why?  As engineers, their education had focused on the technical and not the liberal arts.  This school’s graduates weren’t able to handle the content of conversations that came up at social events as they couldn’t have a discussion on literature, theatre, art.  This school’s graduates weren’t as comfortable as others with public speaking and managing the human side of the job.   The solution?  Emphasize the liberal arts as well as engineering. 

So, take heart liberal arts nonprofits.  Don’t sound the death knoll just yet when you hear that 41 percent of the corporations responding to the Conference Board survey say they will decrease their funding to arts organizations.  Instead, get creative in your positioning:  you do meet corporate needs; you can help them build a successful workforce today and into the future. 

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.