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Giving Ideas, Not Money: A New Type of Corporate Philanthropy


When companies want to support nonprofits, they usually write a check. But sometimes there's a better way to help. The Food Bank for New York City—which feeds an estimated 1.5 million people a year—was struggling to get meals to everyone who needed one, especially after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. Toyota was a financial donor, but they decided to also help in another way, by using their expertise to make the Food Bank's whole system ultra-efficient.

What does making a car have to do with soup kitchens and food for disaster response? Toyota uses 'kaizen,' a method of making small, continuous changes to improve quality and processes as cars are getting made. They used the same system to improve the Food Bank, and through little tweaks in the system made a major impact, as the New York Times explains:

At a soup kitchen in Harlem, Toyota’s engineers cut down the wait time for dinner to 18 minutes from as long as 90. At a food pantry on Staten Island, they reduced the time people spent filling their bags to six minutes from 11. And at a warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where volunteers were packing boxes of supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a dose of kaizen cut the time it took to pack one box to 11 seconds from three minutes.


All of that means the nonprofit, and the volunteers who work there, can help many more hungry people eat. In some ways, Toyota's management system could be called a form of design—it's based on carefully observing what's not working and testing new ideas. Like other types of design thinking, it can be applied to any kind of problem, and experts in using it can create change that might have the potential to last longer than they typical donation.

The need for cash isn't going away, but it will be interesting to watch as more companies start giving advice, expertise, and ideas as well, and how that makes a difference.

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