By Melissa J. Anderson

Recently Out & Equal hosted a Town Call on how corporate partnerships with LGBT organizations impact everyone involved – creating a win-win that extends beyond a simple philanthropic gesture.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Out & Equal works with companies to create inclusive workplaces with cultures that embrace the contributions of LGBT employees.  In addition to providing corporate diversity training, webinars, and a job search platform, the organization hosts events including an annual summit.

September’s town call detailed the benefits that companies receive by partnering with non-profit advocacy organizations. The biggest benefit, agreed the call participants, is employee engagement.

Workforce Development and Marketing

One of the most convincing examples about the mutual benefits of corporate – non-profit partnerships described on the call is the relationship between Ernst & Young and Out & Equal itself. Chris Crespo, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at the professional services firm explained on the call that in 2003, one member of Ernst & Young attended the Out & Equal Summit. The next year, that person brought a group back. She continued, “And suddenly everyone had a vision of how we can get more involved with Out & Equal.”

Crespo explained that firm chooses its partnerships carefully – to ensure that the partnership is bringing professional value to the workforce. She explained, “From an overall corporate goals and values perspective, we really start by looking for opportunities for our people where we can get them involved and they can participate in the organization.”

She said that often this means finding ways for employees to represent the firm by serving on an organization’s board, or in an advisory role or volunteer position.

She continued, “That really helps us overall as a firm and with our folks,” when it comes to people skills development, building networking skills, and getting the firm’s brand in the marketplace.

“Really, our brand is our people,” she said. “We don’t have a product to sell… we’re a business to business company so our folks are our brand.”

She added, “By getting our folks involved in our volunteer efforts especially visible volunteering efforts, that’s part of our marketing as well.”

Becoming Part of the Process

In the early days, the organization had about a 50-50 no-show rate for its volunteers. Ernst & Young was able to step in and provide more assurance that volunteers would show up. The firm’s volunteers did work like fill gift bags and check in attendees.

But now that Ernst & Young is the summit’s main corporate sponsor each year, its support has grown to encompass more of the professional services the firm is known for. “The nice thing that it did for us, is it really helped us get to know Out & Equal. So we were better able to see opportunities to do more and get involved,” Crespo explained. Today volunteers provide valuable help like leading professional development workshops and providing back-end support for registration and scheduling.

She said, “It’s also beneficial to our folks to have a sense of ownership. We feel like we’re part of the Out & Equal Summit and it helps them get more out of it as well.”

In fact, said Justin Tanis, Director of Communications for Out & Equal, these kinds of donations of time and talent are becoming more popular in corporate – non-profit partnerships. “Corporations can provide professionals who can help with things and in-kind or matching giving so that you don’t have to spend money on things you otherwise would. They can also increase your visibility factor.”

Besides creating a sense of ownership in the process, non-profit partnerships help increase employee engagement in companies that have made a firm commitment. Dave Bueche, Senior Manager of Development at Out & Equal said that partnership scan help build employee skills and company loyalty, as well as make public the values that are important to the company.

He also discussed benefits like talent recruitment and retention and business to business networking opportunities at events and workshops.

Talent recruitment is a big benefit mentioned by Masen Davis, Executive Director at the Transgender Law Center. He explained that Google, AT&T, and Comcast are all significant supporters of the Center because they see it as an opportunity for employer branding. He said, “We help some of the companies we’ve been working with in the mainstream media by helping position them as an employer of choice.”