What Happens to Impact Stories When Corporations Align with the SDGs?

March 14, 2018 Michelle DiSabato

Over the past few years, it has been exciting to see corporations take up the United Nations’ rallying cry to achieve a better world and leave no one behind by 2030. Since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) debuted in 2015, we have seen all types of companies championing this global initiative, investing in programs and partners to effect change across 17 goal categories, including ending hunger, eradicating poverty, improving education, erasing gender inequality, and more.

Of course, companies have been driving social good efforts for many years, long before the SDGs arrived on the scene. Employee volunteers, in-kind donations, and corporate foundations have all contributed to making a difference in communities and for causes across the board. So, maybe it sometimes feels like you’re doing good work on one side, and the SDGs have come through with goals to achieve on another. But, the beauty is that, if you’re working to make your world better, no matter what community or cause you support, you’re already helping to achieve the SDGs. It’s all about creating alignment between your company’s social good initiatives and the SDGs framework. 

But, where do you start?

Corporations can build strong alignment between their work to make an impact and the SDGs by going back to the beginning: keeping outcomes front and center and deciding what kind of story you want to tell.

Let’s explore what this could look like in your company.

Aligning Employee Volunteering to the SDGs

When we reframe how we think about measuring employee volunteering, it can inject so much power into the resulting impact stories. If you think about the kind of story you would like to tell, does it mean more to share how many employees volunteered at an event or how many hours they put in, or would it be more meaningful to explain what your employee volunteerism helped your nonprofit partner to achieve or how your employees’ participation in volunteering has helped change things in your community?

When measuring volunteerism, it’s important to remember that you may not see the direct effect on participants at the time of a volunteering event. Instead, by helping the nonprofit, you are enabling the organization to do something more or better which will ultimately impact the participants. To build strong alignment with the SDGs, make sure you and your nonprofit grantee partners agree on desired outcomes of the volunteer engagement and collaborate on defining what that looks like. For example, if your employee volunteerism initiatives have helped a community food bank partner to provide meals to more people, more efficiently, leading to more families becoming food secure, this achievement connects to the SDGs targets around ending hunger. If you are only able to say that your employees spent a day at a food bank, this makes it harder for you to see the natural alignment and to connect the dots.

Aligning In-Kind Donations to the SDGs

As with employee volunteering, it can make all the difference to think more about what your donation can help a nonprofit partner achieve vs. measuring only how many products or services you provided at no cost. Measuring inputs is still part of your story, but it isn’t the whole story.

However, when we set ourselves up to measure what the donation helped the nonprofit achieve beyond simply the inputs, we are able to draw lines directly to the goals set forth in the SDGs. For example, say you represent a pharmaceutical company, and you are donating life-saving anti-viral medications to a clinic in your community. When you go beyond saying “we donated this many doses of our medication to the clinic” to “the donation of our medication saved the clinic this much money, and they were able to improve the health of this many more people in our community,” it’s a very different story. And the latter version helps you build alignment and connect the dots to the SDGs aim of improving health around the world.

Aligning Corporate Philanthropy to the SDGs

At Blackbaud, we talk a lot about results-focused giving, and this concept applies to organizations across the giving space, whether you represent a private foundation, community foundation, corporate foundation or corporate giving program. We are operating in an era where people want more accountability than ever, and this includes wanting to know that the funds going into a nonprofit organization or cause are being used to move the needle. It’s important to measure your inputs – how much money you’re investing into a nonprofit partner – and it’s even more important to measure your outcomes – what that investment is helping the nonprofit to achieve.

Having a clear understanding of intended outcomes and an ongoing dialog with your nonprofit partners are key to your ability to embrace outcomes measurement and align with the SDGs. For example, it’s great to be able to report that your corporate foundation gave $10,000 to a regional education initiative, but it’s all the more powerful to be able to tell an impact story that shows how your $10,000 investment helped your nonprofit partner to increase the high school graduation rate by 40% in two years, because they had the funds to provide more services in more schools. Like our other examples, doesn’t the latter sound more closely aligned with the SDGs’ goal of ensuring everyone has access to a quality education?

The great news is that the alignment between what your company is doing to make the world a better place is already aligned with the SDGs. Now it’s about celebrating what you’re helping your partners to achieve – beyond your company’s inputs – and recognizing the inherent alignment with the UN’s global initiative. Remember: define your outcomes and measurement approach, align your goals at the global level, design your most meaningful impact story.


Interested in putting this results-focused, SDGs-aligned thinking into practice? I’ll be presenting on this topic at ACCP: The Conference 2018 on Monday, March 19. If you’re planning to attend this event that’s aimed at empowering corporate citizenship leaders to improve the world and strengthen their companies, it would be great to connect with you and talk shop. See you there!


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