Larry Dubinski is President and CEO of the highly successful Franklin Institute, the most-visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a top-five tourist destination in Philadelphia. With more than 925,000 visitors passing through its doors last year alone, part of Dubinski’s responsibility is aligning with the right business partners to help sustain the museum’s influential science and technology educational programs. We asked Dubinski about the successful link between corporate social responsibility (CSR) and non-profit/for-profit partnerships.
What is the value of partnerships between non-profits and for-profits?
We have worked with several different businesses to sustain the various aspects of the organization—from our highly-successful special exhibitions to our incredibly popular science and technology educational events and programs. As the leader of a non-profit, it is important for me to have open conversations with our business partners from the start of the relationship to understand the long-term goals and objectives on both sides. Multi-year funding is appealing to me (as required by the Satell Institute CSR members) because it allows organizations to establish what success looks like and over time creates a likely “win-win” scenario. As we look for the right corporate partnership, we tend to seek out those businesses that are receptive to fully understanding the impact of their investment.
What advice would you give other CEOs (of either non-profits or businesses) looking to be successful in CSR? How can they best select their partners/causes?
Listening is so important. We on the non-profit side are so passionate about our work, that, at times, it can become the primary goal of the partnership. Our work is so impactful to the community at large that it’s not always a bad thing. However, it is so important to listen and understand our partner’s needs and expectations. Many times they can align in some way. And, as we have learned from our Satell Institute connection, we need to be flexible and tailor the partnerships to each individual company.
You mentioned your support of “multi-year” commitments – why are they effective?
Multi-year funding is extremely important for non-profit organizations because you are establishing stability for a program, and working to improve the partnership over time, rather than continually seeking out funding. It is vital for a non-profit to deliver tangible benefits for both organizations, and it can be difficult to show impactful results after just one year.
An example of this longer-term investment is The Franklin Institute’s STEM Scholars Program – can you expand a bit more on that?
The STEM Scholars program serves a select group of academically minded students in the Philadelphia-area from grades 9-12 who are passionate about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), however, economically disadvantaged. The program’s mission is to increase promising urban students’ matriculation into college and STEM careers by enhancing STEM subject knowledge and problem-solving skills. We began the program in 2011, with the founder of the Satell Institute as our first sponsor. Since then, our STEM Scholars have achieved a 100% graduation rate and 100% college acceptance into some of the top universities in the country, with 75% of these students being the first in their families to attend college.
We are extremely proud of our STEM Scholars, and our creation of a holistic support system for students to develop both hard skills (training, certification, etc.) and soft skills (interviewing, leadership). Investing in education is paramount for our future workforce, especially for companies that will depend on scientists and engineers.
What will it take for our business community to get more involved with non-profits and social impact programs? Should CEOs be preparing for more CSR activity in the future?
One of the great things we’ve noticed recently is that employees are looking for their employers to have CSR programs.Young adults are really fueling this interest and companies are responding.
Bottom line. For a non-profit to be successful, it must have a business mindset. Successful corporate partnerships in the non-profit world, specifically those with a “win-win” scenario are a blend of the right fit, a mutual understanding of both organization’s goals and expectations, and ideally a multi-year commitment.