It has become trendy to do social good. Everyone is getting in on the act. This includes the business world. However, businesses doing social good is not a new idea. Think of the Ronald McDonald House or Target’s give back program. What is new is the number of businesses that are beginning to participate. Some companies, like Tom’s Shoes, have begun masterfully. Other companies and nonprofits have not been able to create meaningful partnerships and giving opportunities. As a nonprofit professional, I have followed this topic closely. So when I learned about Manifest Digital’s Insight Labs led by Jeff Leitner, I was intrigued. This think tank brings together corporate and business leaders for a 3 hour conversation with a government agency or nonprofit to work on an issue or problem. I was invited by Jeff to participate in a session so that I could blog about it afterwards.

The session I attended was with Genesis at the Crossroads. Their request was that the group work on the idea of converting fans into supporters. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Jeff went around and introduced each person. Some of the most innovative and successful people from Chicago’s business community were in that room.

I have struggled to write this post for six weeks. With that much brainpower in the room, I expected there to be some very sophisticated solutions for Genesis. The conversation was interesting and there was some great input on the value of telling the right story with the right voice. And the concept of, “You can’t destroy and create at the same time.” was a discovery that has some wonderful implications for a nonprofit trying to convey why making music in conflict zones is important. However, I am not convinced any of it will make a real difference in the impact of Genesis. The founder could have gotten the same information at a coffee shop with some fellow nonprofit professionals. It was a really interesting conversation, but I’m not sure that the participants felt that they had done anything terribly important. And without that piece, they are less likely to want to do more.

I really like this idea of businesses getting involved with nonprofits and social good. I think it makes everyone better. But this involvement is still in its infancy and there is much more that needs to be learned in order to optimize this connection. To truly make this a valuable proposition, I think there should be much more conversation between nonprofits and businesses to learn about each other and about what each stands to gain from these relationships. There will be many attempts at this engagement. But until there is some real conversation, negotiation and learning that shapes this engagement, it will look more like wheels of a car spinning on a snowy day than something important and significant taking place.