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Deloitte offers workshops for nonprofits, would do well to coordinate with existing efforts

The audit and consulting giant Deloitte LLP launched its Center for Leadership & Community in 2007 to support nonprofits, and this year it started offering it in the Twin Cities.

The audit and consulting giant Deloitte LLP launched its Center for Leadership & Community (PDF) in 2007 to support nonprofit organizations, and this year it started offering it in the Twin Cities.

The center provides free workshops for senior nonprofit executives, from strategic planning and governance to taxes and fundraising. Last month, it provided one-day seminars in 20 cities, including Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and New York. It was part of Deloitte’s Impact Day, where it shuts down its offices and its staff volunteers for community-building projects. Brad Fritz, managing tax partner in Minneapolis, said Deloitte has done Impact Day for 10 years, and the Center for Leadership is the next phase of volunteerism. Skilled volunteering is “an evolution,” and the center is a starting project, he said.

The nonprofit sector needs all the help it can get right now. That said, I look at the center with a skeptical eye. I don’t want to diminish the value of Deloitte’s Impact Day, its efforts to connect its employees with local charities or its ongoing pro bono work. Yet I do have questions whether the center best leverages corporate largess, and whether it has a for-profit angle — marketing new business.

It’s tough to question free help. It’s Deloitte’s time, staff and money and they can choose how to invest it. Still, Deloitte clearly wants publicity for its new center and acknowledgement of its volunteer work. Deloitte public-relations staff contacted me and invited me to the inaugural workshop here, solicited coverage, offered interviews — and therefore invited questions.

Partnering and collaborating
Funders are pushing the nonprofit sector to do a better job of coordinating, collaborating and in some cases even merging. The goal is to avoid duplicating services. In the case of Deloitte’s Center for Leadership & Community, it hasn’t talked to key organizations already in place to provide training and technical assistance to area nonprofit organizations. Local corporations and foundations have already built a support infrastructure, which includes the Minnesota Council for Nonprofits, MAP for Nonprofits and the Nonprofits Assistance Fund.

If Deloitte would coordinate, it seems it could avoid duplication, leverage its volunteer work and improve outreach to many more nonprofits. Fritz called such criticism “fair comment.” “We are not trying to compete,” he said. “We haven’t tried to coordinate with them either. … That is a good call-out.”

Deloitte’s press release said the Center for Leadership & Community “showcases innovative approach to corporate volunteerism.” Yet at this point, the effort is not well publicized. There is no web presence to tell Twin Cities nonprofits about the center, when the meetings are, how to sign up or what help they could expect. “We don’t have a way right now for the charities to keep an eye on when we are planning to have the next one,” Fritz said. (Local contacts are Jeff Cotton, jcotton@deloitte.com managing partner of Deloitte’s Minneapolis office, and Fritz, email preferred.)

The seminar schedule is yet to be determined. Fritz said it would depend on interest, but seminars would happen at least once a year. As I see it, if they end up being just once a year, it is not likely they would match the times nonprofits most need help.

Is it free help or marketing?
Fritz said the Center for Leadership is no “covert marketing offer.” “We are not selling anything,” he said. “This is flat-out our attempt to be helpful to these people.”

Jodi Sandfort, associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, is concerned that it is a soft sales pitch. Sandfort, who also run the Minnesota Council on Nonprofit’s leadership development program on contract, thinks Deloitte’s Center for Leadership will try to build market share in the nonprofit sector. It is a time of confusion, nonprofits want answers, and Deloitte can provide a set of answers that makes sense in business terms.

Her concern is that those business solutions would appeal to some nonprofit boards of directors who might then invest their scarce resources in a contract and not get the help they need because there are significant differences in how for-profit and nonprofit organizations work.

Deloitte has a pro bono program, separate from the Center for Leadership. It has committed $50 million in in-kind pro bono support around the country. According to its website, it does not accept external applications. To be considered, a nonprofit organization “must have an existing relationship with Deloitte …” through financial support, volunteering, etc.

Tapping corporate help
Deloitte says nonprofits and corporations are missing opportunities to offset the decline in giving with volunteers. It issued a media release with the following survey results.

“Despite the challenging economic backdrop, nearly 40 percent of nonprofit executives say they will spend between $50,000 and $250,000 or more of ‘hard-won’ cash on outside contractors and consultants this year. Yet nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of nonprofit respondents have no plans to use skilled volunteers or pro bono support in any capacity in 2009.”

Here’s hoping that whatever new corporate efforts emerge, they work hand-in-hand with existing efforts to get the biggest impact for nonprofit organizations swamped with funding challenges and increased need.

Local foundation updates
The Minneapolis Foundation has released its 2009-2015 strategic plan. Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, vice president of Community Philanthropy, will hold a webinar on July 29 to discuss it. You can sign up on its website. The plan’s three overarching themes are: creating rewarding relationships, becoming a more accessible and innovative institution; community impact, serving as a leader, partner and grant maker; and achieving operational excellence.

The Minnesota Community Foundation and The St. Paul Foundation announced the creation of a $2.2 million Community Economic Relief Fund in response to the economic downturn. It has focused initial giving on hunger relief, housing stability and financial counseling.