The BizTimes Nonprofit Excellence Awards celebrated the accomplishments of area nonprofits and nonprofit leaders, and recognized the impact and value of partnerships with business.
During a panel discussion at the event, four influential Milwaukee business leaders discussed the importance of these partnerships to the community’s future.
Ken Hanson, founder and chief executive officer of Hanson Dodge Creative, pointed to the city’s brand.
“In many ways, your brand is your business,” Hanson said. “Today, with our businesses only a Google search away, our brand is more important than ever.”
But Milwaukee, he noted, is ranked as the most segregated city in the nation, the worst city in which to raise a black child and the city with the highest black incarceration rate – statistics he calls devastating to Milwaukee’s brand.
“So while we have these statistics and it’s challenging, if we focus on the upside of that and the untapped potential we have in the city and in our businesses, the upside is dramatic,” he said.
Hanson is working to create an “upside” through the Greater Together Coalition, a partnership he launched last spring with area nonprofits and businesses to raise awareness about these statistics and develop solutions.
Alan Petelinsek, CEO of Power Test Inc., says partnerships with nonprofits have changed the culture of his company.
“Manufacturing is not necessarily the business people want to go into and we have to compete against some big names in Milwaukee to gain employees,” he said. “Our culture of giving opens a network that allows us to recruit and retain great people, build our strength in the business and, in doing so, it helps take us to our customers.”
Studies confirm they’re on to something. Research by Walker Information Inc., an Indianapolis-based management consulting firm, indicates top companies increasingly make community engagement a strategic priority, enabling them to become suppliers of choice, employers of choice and neighbors of choice.
Positive reputations, noted The Novo Group’s Maria Nicholas-Groves, are critical to attracting next-generation talent. Nicholas-Groves, a millennial, leads business development for the Milwaukee recruiting firm and is president of the global nonprofit Feeding Mouths, Filling Minds.
“Young professionals will go to organizations that represent who they are, and that integrate professional and service work,” she said. “And so they’re willing to go to the company next door so long as that integrates into their world. Or they are willing to go to a different geography.”
Nicholas-Groves went on to point out, “… there’s huge opportunity for us here in Milwaukee to ensure that we’re thinking through how we develop, attract and retain our young talent.”
Attracting and retaining young talent is why Tom Shannon started the BrightStar Foundation, a vehicle for other foundations and donors to invest in early stage companies that create jobs.
“We are educating our kids, but we aren’t able to keep them in the state, we aren’t able to attract companies from outside the state. Through BrightStar, donors contribute to the growth of these early stage companies,” Shannon said.
Striking a balance between nonprofit and for-profit isn’t easy, but it becomes natural, according to these business leaders. They see the impact on their own companies, inspiring returns in the community and, if more business leaders step up, a brighter future for Milwaukee.
“If we all concentrate on building our businesses this way, we can retake the city, put people to work and do great things,” Petelinsek said.