Corporate philanthropy has been around for hundreds of years. From the town groceries running a line of credit for local families to the local merchants who sponsor Little League to the corporate giants who established the Lilly and Rockefeller and Carnegie and Gates Foundations as well as many others, companies find ways to align their brand with evidence of generosity.
Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes magazine did an article on America’s 10 most generous companies from 2013, based on total amount of giving. The causes these companies support and the ways in which they give have distinct differences, demonstrating that their corporate philanthropy is a strategic part of their corporate philosophy.
Small companies also practice philanthropy. Most do it because they believe in giving back; others because they know it has a positive influence on their brand. Like other business decisions, philanthropy should be strategic, even in small amounts (maybe especially in small amounts).
Here are 5 ways your company can practice philanthropy while strengthening your brand:
- Engage your team. Give your employees the opportunity to help set your company’s philanthropic course. Do they prefer picking a single charity to support? Or helping a different charity each year? Are they more interested in small, local donations or contributing to bigger causes? Will they give more personally if you as the employer matches their gifts? Whatever you decide, your team will be more engaged with the company’s philanthropic contributions if they’ve been part of discussions about it.
- Give more than money. Even a very small company with few extra dollars around can contribute. Give your employees some days each year to volunteer. Or take on a team project like Habitat for Humanity or a Food Bank drive or a clean-up effort. Let employees involve their kids, if possible. Help to raise your employees’ awareness of opportunities to give and raise a new generation of givers.
- Get involved. Take your turn at serving on a nonprofit board and provide specific assistance. If you have employees who are board members, support their effort with a corporate gift. Make it known locally, nationally or internationally that your company intends to be a leader in philanthropy. Bill and Melinda Gates were interviewed about their philanthropy at the 2014 Ted Talks. Bill said, ” It’s the most fulfilling thing we’ve ever done. You can’t take it with you. If it’s not good for your kids, let’s get together and brainstorm what can be done. Part of the reason I’m so optimistic is I think philanthropy is going to grow and work on things government is just not good at shining a light on.”
- Make it count. How will you know if you’ve made a good philanthropic decision? Determine your metrics ahead of time. Expect recipient organizations to be accountable. Good stewardship requires that you monitor how your philanthropy and help recipient organizations use your gifts wisely and effectively. Share your expertise. Above all, when you are serving on a board or as a volunteer, keep your business hat on as well as your charity hat. Good philanthropy is also good business.
- Make it known. Let your customers and prospects know about your company’s philanthropy. You can be a good role model and inspire others to give. Your philanthropy will indeed reflect well on your brand. It will increase the self-esteem of your employees and their standing in the community. If you have a major slip-up in your product or services, people will be more willing to accept your apology and forgive if you are known as a giver.
Do you have a company philanthropy plan?