How Nonprofits Inform & Improve the work of S&P 500 Companies and Vice Versa

Drexel University’s Gupta Governance Institute and Grant Thornton’s biweekly Nonprofit Directors Dialogue Miniseries features nonprofit leaders and board members as they share insights and strategies for turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s successes.

How has your work in the corporate sector informed your work in the nonprofit sector and vice versa?

In the for-profit world, enterprise risk management has been around for quite a few years, especially in larger corporations. There are departments, groups, and people within the company to plan for the “what if’s”. What if the factory blows up? What if a supply chain gets cut because of an earthquake or because of political unrest? Very few non-profit organizations have developed that muscle. In our case at the American Cancer Society, we implemented an enterprise risk management program several years ago that I was involved in. There were some people, but not many, that said, “Do we really need that?” Most people were fine with it, but there were some people saying, “That seems like a “big company” kind of thing to do…do we really need to do that as a nonprofit?” My response was that we have a multi-billion-dollar reserve, we have staff in all 50 States, we have more than a million volunteers around the country, we’re impacting cancer policies in Washington and all 50 state capitals, should we not be concerned about what might happen if something really goes wrong?

I think many large nonprofits are starting to behave more like S&P 500 companies. Many S&P 500 companies over the last few years have started to focus on more than just their shareholders. They are focusing on the impact that they are having in their community and shifted to stakeholder capitalism topics. I think it is interesting because the corporate and the not-for-profit world is coming together with directors increasingly able to leverage lessons from both sides.