Working Towards a Common Global Goal: How Your Nonprofit Can Align with the SDGs

UN 17 sustainable development goals and graphic icons

Every nonprofit, big or small, stands to gain from working towards a common global goal. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a framework that outline 17 key areas for achieving a greater good—and chances are, your organization falls into at least one of these areas. In this blog post, we’ll review the SDG’s in more depth, and help give ideas on how your nonprofit can support them. 

What are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

To understand why the SDGs were created, we have to go back to 1972. The Cold War was creating widening rifts between the east and west, and a byproduct of that was contention within the United Nations. From a place of political neutrality, Sweden found that environmental pollution could be an issue of potential cooperation between members of the UN, and hosting a conference on that topic would help boost the UN’s global perception. This was the first world conference that centered around the environment. On the 20th anniversary of this conference in 1992, the UN hosted the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro focused on the impact of human socioeconomic activities on the environment. During this conference, the UN concluded that not only are social, economic, and environmental factors interdependent, but that balancing these concerns is vital for sustaining human life.

The United Nations spent the next 22 years understanding, researching, and developing integrated approaches to solving issues of society, economy, and environment. In 2015, the United Nations’ 193 member countries collectively came together to solidify the agenda for the newly developed 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Under this program, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created and paired with 169 actionable targets to establish a united front and ensure prosperity for all people and the planet. Read more on the SDGs here.

How do the UN’s sustainable development goals impact nonprofits?

Despite separating these goals into categories, the UN acknowledged that they are interdependent—to end poverty, for example, we must also reduce inequalities, and so forth. The interconnectedness of the 17 SDGs demonstrates that if we truly want to achieve a more sustainable global future, we must work together as individuals, corporations, governments, and nonprofit organizations toward one united common goal.

Working together is often easier said than done. Limited resources and fluctuating demand create competition. While many nonprofits stray from terms like “competitors”—a staple phrase in the corporate lexicon—they still measure themselves compared to similar organizations. 

At the core of every nonprofit is its vision, whether it be a world free of single-use plastic or equal rights for women, and there is not a single nonprofit whose vision is solely its own. If nonprofits view competitors as collaborators, they could, in theory, combine resources toward a collective vision. Groups of similarly-missioned nonprofits could utilize the SDGs as a guide in setting combined issue-specific goals with pre-set targets.

On a smaller scale, the SDGs can serve as a template for individual nonprofits to measure their impact, providing tangible targets with upcoming deadlines. By aligning with the SDGs, nonprofits can increase accountability, which, in turn, increases donations and, ultimately, impact. 

Nonprofits often spend a great deal of resources on understanding the problem they’re trying to address and coming up with solutions.  However, the SDGs were developed by world-class experts and used extensive research for this reason—to understand our world’s problems and present a north star to guide future solutions. Organizations could increase efficiency and impact by utilizing the background data and detailed targets developed for the SDGs to guide understanding of the problem and make better, more informed decisions about potential solutions.

Collaboration is the key. 

In the corporate world, at your day-to-day job, or in your personal relationships, we tend to create collective goals and steps to achieve success, whether we realize it or not. It could take the form of revenue, or OKRs, or raising a healthy family, or committing to self-care. 

Getting the world to align with the SDGs follows the same mentality. It will take all of us, every organization, to be a part of reaching the goals of the SDGs and make it matter—regardless of the size of your nonprofit. All of us in the social good or nonprofit sector would ultimately like to be put out of a job because that means the cause or goal we are working towards has been solved. And nonprofits are working tirelessly to address some of the world’s largest and most complex societal problems. 

Yes, the SDGs will be hard to accomplish, but they give corporations, individuals, and nonprofits a reason to focus on common goals. If everyone focuses on these 17 areas, incredible change can be made from the micro to the macro level. And you do not have to be a nonprofit to partake. 

Looking Beyond Just Nonprofits

We all need this framework for human development and to save our planet (climate change is real.) 

The government of Ghana has doubled down on aligning with the SDGs and has produced incredible outputs and outcomes while bridging important partnerships with other countries and major global corporations. The country is committed to tackling the digital divide, ending period poverty, facing climate change head-on, and co-leading the international conversation around non-communicable diseases. Ghana is a fantastic blueprint for how having a global north star is truly impactful. 

We have the framework in the SDGs to do better and to hold ourselves accountable.  So here’s the million-dollar question: why aren’t we? 

Why can’t large corporations also get on board with global goals? Why can’t those with revenues bigger than most countries plug into this larger humanitarian goal? Or what about major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles,  New York City, or Detroit? Every Mayor has so much power to also look at the SDGs as a common goal on the city level. If we, as a world, were all laddering up these SDGs as our global goals, think about how much change we could see. 

At Media Cause, we believe in being a part of that change – and we realize the SDGs will not be met by 2030. This is why we’re starting to think about how our services and work can align to better help achieve the SDGs.  

If your nonprofit wants to align with them but are unsure where to start, we’re ready to help create change together. Come work with us, and let’s put ourselves out of business.