Building Nonprofit Resilience and Sustainability with an Innovative New Grant Program

Commentary from MTS CEO, Marcy Twete, during her time leading ArcelorMittal’s Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at ArcelorMittal Americas. 

Leading ArcelorMittal’s United States community investment portfolio was one of the great joys of my life. In the 10 years since the ArcelorMittal merger, the company invested more than $60 million in nonprofit organizations in the communities where ArcelorMittal operates.

In 2017, our team had the rare opportunity to look back at our last decade of grantmaking. We worked with Steve Rochlin from iO Sustainability and the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals (ACCP) to participate in a process called “The Business of Social Investments.” Together with eight other major corporations, the impact of our community investments were assessed. When Steve and his team presented their findings to us, I was humbled to see our work met best practice standards in many ways.

One recommendation Steve’s team made, however, was to bring our community investment work closer to our overarching sustainability goals at ArcelorMittal. We emphasized sustainability and resilience in our business through our 10 sustainable development outcomes. We knew how important it was to extend that sustainability and resilience focus to our customer relationships. What would it look like to think about community investment with the same lens?

After that conversation, our corporate responsibility team began to ask critical questions about nonprofit sustainability. What did it mean for nonprofit organizations to be sustainable or resilient? What were the biggest barriers in place? Could a corporation like ours make a direct impact on those barriers? Could we do that without creating more work for our partners? One resource we employed was a tool written by business strategy expert Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer.  In it, Jim Collins discusses the way corporations and foundations fund the social sector “often favors “Time telling” – focusing on a specific program or restricted gift.” He says, “Building a great organization requires a shift to “clock building’ – shape a strong, self-sustaining organization that can prosper beyond any single programmatic idea. The best thing supporters can do is to give resources that enable the institution’s leaders to do their work the best way they know how. Get out of their way, and let them build a clock!”

We recognized that our grantmaking process – focused on programmatic grants – was strong, but we had an opportunity to implement a complementary program that emphasized the kind of “clock building” Collins hearkens in his work. From our own work in nonprofit organizations and service on committees and boards, our team knew that often the key to this work is funding for planning, training, development and next level thinking. These kinds of funds are often scarce and rarely funded by institutional funders like ArcelorMittal and other corporations.

We acted quickly and created a program called Building Resilience: Investing in Nonprofit Sustainability. We reached out to our existing grantees – over 100 organizations across the country – and invited them to apply for a grant that would be game changing for their sustainability. We made this grant application easy, and asked only two key questions: What will you do? How will it make your organization more sustainable? Less than a month later, we had received more than $2.5 million in requests from 66 organizations. We then embarked on the difficult task of choosing our first slate of grantees. In December, we announced $318,500 in grants to 14 organizations in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

At the core of this program, and all our community investment programs at ArcelorMittal, was trust in our community partners. With every relationship, we brought our ideas and expertise to the table, but always to augment the expertise of our partners. We committed to trusting their skills, expertise and strategy, and provided the resources to allow their growth, scale and increased impact wherever possible.