Why Unlikely Partnerships Between Businesses And Non-Profits Are A Win All Around

At first glance, it might be challenging to understand how a luxury home-decor retailer and a nonprofit that benefits underpriveleged girls might be able to help each other out. 

MacKenzie-Childs, a company that makes high-end, artisan-designed and crafted furniture, is working in partnership with Girls Inc., a non-profit organization that provides educational and life skills for young girls from various economic backgrounds. MacKenzie-Childs designed a holiday ornament with proceeds benefitting the work of Girls Inc.

"What the heck do these organizations have in common?" a puzzled colleague asked me. "Why do they want to help Girls, Inc., when probably none of these girls are their customers?"

I’m always excited when I find people and organizations from very disparate backgrounds creating partnerships that leverage their resources and diversity of talent in a way that benefits everyone involved. Too often, energy and resources get wasted while people and organizations wait for Congress to pass budgets or dole out funding, instead of working with each other to develop innovative solutions.

I still didn’t see the big deal about this partnership, until I went on their site, saw the ornament and their furniture, and talked to the CEOs of both organizations.

"Our artisans that create our products, put their personal passion in their work," said Lee Feldman, CEO of MacKenzie-Childs. "We are a luxury brand with a unique design aesthetic. Our customers tend to be creative, interesting people who are antique collectors, quilters, and knitters. Like the people who work in our organization, our customers are the kind of people that appreciate community and want to make a difference in other peoples’ lives."

Lee told me that Neiman-Marcus, who was involved in fundraising for Girls Inc., approached MacKenzie-Childs about donating a product to raise money. He went to an event for Girls, Inc., where Karen Katz, CEO of Neiman-Marcus, was the keynote speaker.

"I attended the event with Rebecca Proctor, our creative director, and when we heard girls speak about the impact Girls Inc. had on their lives, Rebecca and I were really impressed," Feldman said. "We saw how motivated these girls were to be successful. Most of them are probably the first people in their family to go to college."

He went on to say, "Many of us ask, am I really making a difference? The mission of Girls Inc. is aligned with my personal, and our organizational values, and I knew that we could make a difference in these young girls lives by helping Girls Inc. make a difference."

Judy Vredenburgh, CEO and president of Girls Inc, told me that the organization uses hands-on experiential learning, and holds mother-daughter workshops on financial literacy. More than 70% of the girls come from families with incomes of $30,000 or less.

The older girls learn about entrepreneurship, and some have started successful businesses. "We believe in the dignity and strength of every girl, and want to help them become strong, smart and bold," Vredenburgh said. "Our girls graduate high school, attend college prep schools, and get scholarships to attend college."

Vredenburgh talked about their highly effective pregnancy-prevention programs, and how girls that graduate from their program become role models for younger girls in the program.

This is a unique three-way partnership. MacKenzie-Childs has created a beautiful holiday ornament with vibrant colors that will be sold in MacKenzie-Childs stores, in the 2011 holiday catalog, as well as at Neiman-Marcus. Girls Inc. will receive $15.00 for every ornament sold.

The female customers at Neiman-Marcus would rather buy from companies that are socially responsible, so it’s good for the store’s image, and contributes to customer loyalty, while supporting an organization that Neiman-Marcus believes in. Customers of MacKenzie-Childs get a beautiful ornament, while supporting an organization aligned with their beliefs. This will also create more visibility for MacKenzie-Childs and help solidify its brand as an organization that supports community. Girls Inc. gets more visibility, more support, and will be able to continue  and hopefully increase their programs to help these girls.

Ultimately, our country benefits, because as these girls grow, and develop their talents and skill, the possibilities of what they contribute and the value they bring to our society will be limitless.

Simma Lieberman is known as "The Inclusionist," because of her ability and passion for bringing people together from all dimensions of diversity to engage in dialogues that result in dramatic breakthroughs. She is the author of Putting Diversity to Work.

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