Transformational Not Transactional

Photo by Christian Dubovan

Photo by Christian Dubovan

The arts provide unique opportunities for companies wanting to be transformational. The sector has a primary focus on sharing universal human stories and expressing the human condition in ingenious forms. As a result, the arts have a special ability to transcend boundaries, overcome discord and form lasting bonds. The corporation meanwhile can serve the arts by providing its unique economic and discretionary services to solve problems for and with the arts community. This exchange can foster an authentic and thriving ecosystem that not only benefits the arts and business partners but also the larger community.

Bank of America is a company that shares its resources with the arts. It supports over 2000 arts institutions through its volunteer program and its foundation grants. It offers conservation for significant art works and makes its notable art collection available to museums and 501(c)(3) galleries at no charge. Working with over 150 arts and cultural institutions across the country, the company created one free weekend a month for cardholders. It partners with arts organizations worldwide to provide support for services, audience engagement and new works.

These important initiatives indicate high regard for the role of the arts on individuals, communities and our economy. Bank of America’s programs leverage the company’s resources to support arts organizations in creating and sharing their work. As a customer, I applaud this commitment and have ideas to offer to illuminate the total toolbox approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate community involvement (CCI) and full impact investment.

Here’s a big idea – what if Bank of America and the arts industry exchanged each other’s expertise to support creative economic education? Financial literacy is not strong in America. People of all ages and from all backgrounds are intimidated by money management and financial terms. Arts organizations have an expertise in animating information in a way people understand and remember.

Perhaps Bank of America could partner with a theater company to create a financial literacy program comprised of engaging workshops and interactive materials. The program could be available to anyone, which would likely result in new business and increased financial literacy for the community, a win for all. The company also could consider a customized education and loan program to support office and home real estate purchases by artists, who struggle with ownership challenges due to many factors from their unpaid work creation cycles to lack of a W-2.

Other ideas abound, but as a consultant, I will share those when Bank of America brings me on board! But you see that there are countless opportunities for the arts to be integrated into a corporation’s business in innovative ways that give a big return on community and put profit in everyone’s pocket.

For Profit

Credit: National Association of Flight Instructors

Credit: National Association of Flight Instructors

It is a beautiful and often overlooked truth that most corporations – like arts
organizations – are the result of someone’s imagination and desire to serve people.
An individual or a few people dedicate their efforts to inventing something that can
make people’s lives easier or create opportunities.

A man concocts a syrup recipe that can alleviate headaches and stomach pains.  This becomes Coca-Cola. The enterprising Wright brothers dream of a flying machine that can take people anywhere. Their innovation leads to the creation of the airline industry. An immigrant from Italy uses his own money to provide loans to Italians in San Francisco who are discriminated against by other banks. This becomes the Bank of America.

Whether imagination leads to legally forming a corporation or a nonprofit (a term I
passionately dislike but that’s another article), all organizations must seek the
highest profit, which in my view, is to be of service or benefit to people. Ultimately
the users of the company’s service decide if the organization is successful in this
regard and will prosper. As corporations get bigger, they often lose sight of this
early commitment to serving people or of the necessity of listening to their
customers. Or a company may simply grapple with the best way to authentically
connect to its now larger community.

The demand is intense today to respond to us and to think differently. A socially
responsible corporation sets itself apart from competitors by building mutually
beneficial relationships with customers and by aspiring to be transformational not
merely transactional. It welcomes and pursues conversation and responsibility,
understanding that its lasting success is connected to understanding and listening to
the communities it serves and impacts.