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Leader to Leader: What For-Profits Need to Know About Nonprofits (And Vice Versa)
February 3, 2022
As a Principal at consulting firm RSM, Michele Juliana stands at the intersection of two worlds. And her observations can help both corporations and the causes they support.
When it comes to understanding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Michele Juliana is in a pretty unique position. As a Principal at RSM, the audit, tax and consulting firm, Juliana knows what CSR looks like from the corporate perspective. Why it matters. How it engages employees. The impact it can make. At the same time, as the firm’s Nonprofit Consulting Industry leader, she also has a front-row view of what’s happening in that world.
A Member of the Satell Institute since 2020, Juliana recently sat down to chat about the trends affecting nonprofits, what she sees among younger employees, the CSR impact of middle-market companies, and what she’s gained by being part of the Satell Institute.
The biggest trends I see impacting nonprofits right now are…There are general trends, and then there are pandemic trends, which, in my opinion, just accelerated trends that were already happening. For the last five years, at least, we’ve talked a lot about digital transformation among nonprofits — realizing that, in order to be successful in achieving their mission, they have to think of technology as an enabler, not just a necessary evil. And thinking of themselves as technology-forward in terms of how they’re communicating with their donors, the people they’re serving, everybody they’re working with. That whole transformation had been happening for a long time, really. But the pandemic turned on a light switch and said, if you weren’t paying attention, you better start paying attention.
Once we got through the emergencies, now it’s opened up this whole world of possibilities, which is enabling nonprofits to do more, to think bigger.
When I look at millennials and Gen Z, I see… On the one hand, there’s this great desire to be involved with a greater purpose, and a lot of younger people are joining nonprofits. To get people to do things like auditing is, in some ways, a lot harder than joining a nonprofit. They have this desire to be connected to a mission. But there are still the financial realities, and nonprofits are really faced with [an inability] to pay what people are looking to get these days.
One way companies can attract younger workers is… education. I want to do more education about the work that we’re doing and the impact we have. The volunteer work, the community involvement, the fundraising, looking at how we’re giving back to our community as a whole. I think documenting that, making people more aware of that, is a tremendous recruiting and retention tool. Especially in this pandemic remote environment. There’s so much soul searching going on right now. And I get it. Everybody’s doing it. Because they’re all just at home thinking, why am I still just sitting in front of this computer doing nothing that’s important?
A sector that’s sometimes overlooked when it comes to CSR is… middle-market companies. You need to realize that there are a lot of midsize – especially family-owned – companies that have built a business, been very successful, and feel genuinely passionate about some aspect of the Philadelphia community.
I try to get people to see that those people have been committed to giving back to the community — for decades sometimes. And they may never have heard the term Corporate Social Responsibility. At the Fortune 500 level, they’ve got people whose jobs are CSR. They’ve got websites dedicated to CSR. But CSR is happening at a much broader level.
When it comes to giving back… One of my favorite concepts that Ed Satell talks about is the four Ts: time, talent, treasure, and ties. A lot of what I do to help nonprofits is just based on my knowledge and my experience. I can sit down and have a conversation with them and help them make decisions around their technology environment — just because I’ve been doing it so long. I can have lunch with somebody and give them good value that they’d normally have to pay a consulting firm for. So I do that a lot. And I make a lot of connections and I introduce people to potential funders or introduce people to potential volunteers. You sort of forget there are a lot of ways you can help people that aren’t just writing a check. In addition to writing a check.
When it comes to CSR, RSM is… centralizing and organizing our efforts more so than in the past. Being a professional services firm with more than 80 offices around the country – every office had their own sort of personal commitments. What we did was create a program that centralized all of that into one large foundation. That has given us a lot more ability to have an impact. We have a large, organized fundraising program, and then each community or office chooses one or two organizations to give to.
To me the Satell Institute is… all about connection. It’s a great way to connect with other companies in the community that have similar values. It’s a great way for us to talk to our clients and prospective clients about something that’s bigger — to connect more on a personal level and build real relationships with people. For me, finding other business leaders who have the same values and are really like-minded is very exciting, and I think there’s just a unique energy in the room when you go to a Satell meeting.
Looking forward I… One thing that came out of the Satell CEO Conference last fall was that our people are our community. I think we’re naturally inclined to think of “the community” as something external – it’s that community over there, and we’re helping those people. But I think it’s important, as employers, to think of your community as starting with your employees and what their needs and issues are, and to think about what their communities are. We shouldn’t be thinking of social responsibility as something separate.
The Satell Institute is a Think and Do Tank dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility. A nonpartisan, nonprofit operating foundation, it is fully funded by a multi-million dollar endowment. Learn more about membership here.