Spotlight – One Firm’s Unique Approach to Philanthropy

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Corporate philanthropy is a way for companies to give back to their communities and make an impact in fields that really matter to the employees and the larger corporate mission. However, over time, the definition of what constitutes corporate giving has become rather limited. Many companies give away money and products for the benefit of a nonprofit. Other organizations may instead choose to donate their expertise. However, both of these approaches have some issues, even if they are grounded in good intentions.

Traditional Approaches to Corporate Philanthropy

Perhaps the most traditional way of thinking about corporate philanthropy is giving away tangible resources. Companies make donations in support of a particular nonprofit’s mission or, perhaps, they offer their commercial products for free or at a deep discount. Microsoft was one of the early pioneers in giving away technology, and the company has offered devices in support of causes around the world. At the same time, the products of companies like Microsoft do not always meet the needs of organizations in the social sector. Typically, these technologies are developed for the consumer and, while they can be adapted to nonprofit use, they are not really designed for that purpose. Thus, while technology donations can have a major impact, that impact is often less than ideal.

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Companies that produce intangible products approach philanthropy in a different way. For example, consulting firms such as Deloitte and Accenture often approach philanthropy by donating expertise. These companies will partner with a nonprofit to create a custom solution, which sounds like an amazing opportunity for the charitable organization. However, these solutions are often not sustainable, especially after the consulting firm ends the engagement with the nonprofit. Providing code is only half of the battle, and nonprofits typically do not have the staff or the resources to maintain custom pieces of technology.

Nonprofit leaders can face an increased workload when the technology they are using is not designed to meet their needs. Some individuals spend hours each week manually gathering data or waste staff time transferring information between incompatible systems. Ultimately, organizations may abandon the technology altogether, perhaps because it does not meet their needs or because it is unsustainable or, worse yet, they do not know how to make full use of it.

A Different Approach to Corporate Giving

While both of these approaches to giving have made real changes and empowered numerous organizations, the extent of the boost has always been somewhat limited. However, the predictive analytics company Uptake has forged a different way of thinking about philanthropy altogether that does not ask what the company has to give away, whether it involves money, products, or expertise. Instead, Uptake asks what the nonprofits it partners with really need. In this sense, the company treats its nonprofit partners like customers and strives to create custom solutions that take into account what organizations need most.

Companies that are in a position to engage in philanthropy have realized at least some degree of commercial success because of the work that they do. The greatest gift that these companies can give their nonprofit partners is that same work. The same processes that can create commercial value can also have philanthropic value. This approach to philanthropy is less about giving away and more about creating.

To create commercial value, Uptake works closely with industrial customers to gain a fuller understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities not seized in a particular sector. This mission involves going out in the field and working alongside customers, observing them, and listening to what they have to say. In its philanthropic work, Uptake does the same thing. This way, the company can use its time to create solutions that truly address the needs of the nonprofit. Once it finishes the application, the company continues to provide support, just as it would with for its commercial customers.

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Examples of Uptake’s Corporate Philanthropy

Uptake has used its unique approach to philanthropy to tackle some very important causes, such as human trafficking, which is the third-largest crime industry in the world. Nonprofits that work in this field face a number of challenges, such as the siloing of information between and even within organizations. Data sharing among these groups would involve a difficult normalization processes and faces a number of challenging privacy issues. At the same time, some sort of central source of information could help organizations act more effectively and save more lives.

To tackle this issue, Uptake designed ReRoute, which uses machine learning to track interview data and recognize patterns that could signal trafficking across a country’s exit points. This technology facilitates data sharing while adapting quickly to traffickers’ changing strategies.

Another issue the company has tackled is education among underserved students. Each year, hundreds of thousands of students are educationally undermatched, meaning that they attend institutions significantly below their qualifications. These students remain unchallenged and consequently struggle to achieve social mobility and break the cycle of poverty. Uptake’s Student Union software takes students’ records, financial situation, and future plans into account to match them to the best schools they are likely to get into and eventually graduate from.

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