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Charity may start “at home,” but it continues in the workplace. According to Giving USA, an annual survey of philanthropy, U.S. corporations donated $14.55 billion in 2011.
Leaders at many organizations have embraced corporate philanthropy initiatives because these initiatives allow companies to give back to their communities and support causes related to their businesses. Philanthropy is an effective way to build goodwill, and it also provides an outlet for employees who want to volunteer their time to causes that are near and dear to them. Employees are able to make a personal connection to those in need and have a genuine impact on their local communities, the nation and even the world.
Many companies are developing corporate philanthropy programs because they strive to be more socially responsible corporate citizens. The benefits to the charities are immense—in addition to the billions of dollars donated each year, employees are also volunteering their time to make a difference.
It is well-known that volunteers often get as much—or more—out of working with charities than the recipients themselves. The sheer act of giving is its own reward. The same can be true for organizations. While companies are supporting charities and nonprofit groups, they are also reaping benefits from these programs within their organizations. Of course, employers shouldn’t develop corporate philanthropy programs solely to experience these rewards. Yet, these initiatives provide pleasant residual benefits, in addition to providing an opportunity to do good.
How Corporate Philanthropy Works
Today, businesses of all sizes and types are discovering that they can do well by doing right.
In addition to being the right thing to do, here are some examples of how charitable giving can benefit and strengthen an organization’s internal business strategies:
Enhance employee relations. Corporate philanthropy programs can be a very powerful way to increase cohesiveness and morale among employees. Many people want to volunteer, but can't find time in their busy lives to do it—or may be scared to try an opportunity on their own. Participating in employer-sponsored programs allows employees the opportunity to volunteer and their altruism is endorsed by the office. They don’t feel like they are taking time away from their work or families to help others, or trying to squeeze yet another item into their jam-packed schedules. It’s also a great way for people to sample different types of volunteer work to find a good personal fit.
Corporate philanthropy programs also present many opportunities for team-building that would not normally occur during a typical day in the office. Employees are able to partner together across divisions and work in team environments outside of their direct work groups. People from different departments or offices, who wouldn’t see each other during a typical workday, can serve a meal, volunteer in a classroom or help build a home, side-by-side. This promotes a greater sense of camaraderie and unity among employees as they work towards a shared mission and common goal.
Giving employees a chance to give back to their communities also helps to instill a sense of pride in themselves and their organization. They are proud to work for a company that supports philanthropic programs, which can lead to increased loyalty and better retention.
Help define the corporate identity. Some organizations are as well-known for their corporate philanthropy programs as they are for the products or services they provide. Charitable giving can become so ingrained in an organization’s corporate culture that it can actually be a cornerstone of the company’s identity. It can be a way for organizations to differentiate themselves from the competition. Employees may begin to describe their jobs, work and company in different terms because of the good work the firm does. Senior leaders and employees can say, “This is who we are.” At some businesses, corporate philanthropy has even made its way into their missions and short- and long-term business goals.
Use as a powerful recruitment tool. Structured corporate philanthropy programs can also help to attract the most accomplished and qualified candidates to organizations. Working for a company with a corporate conscience and a dedication to the community is appealing to current and future employees across all generations. Having a corporate giving program can give organizations an edge over the competition, so that they can recruit top talent. In an economy where hiring dollars are stretched tight and every new hire needs to count, community philanthropy programs can often be the catalyst that makes a candidate choose an organization. In a robust economy, organizations can recruit the best and the brightest, even during a labor shortage, because employees want to work for a company that gives back.
Better public relations. Another of the ancillary benefits of implementing a corporate philanthropy program is that organizations can publicize their efforts as part of their public relations strategy. Generating positive publicity about an organization’s efforts is a great way to help build its brand and create a positive image in the marketplace. Sharing the stories of their good work can benefit companies on many levels. Coverage in the media can reinforce to current employees that they made a sound job choice; it can demonstrate to clients, customers and business partners that the organization and its leadership team are dedicated to charitable causes; and it can help attract employees through positive stories and “Best Places to Work” lists. Companies may start to be recognized for their charitable work, which is good for their reputation, business and recruiting. Public relations also provide a vehicle to showcase the organization’s messages and practices.
Put Philanthropy into Action
Organizations that have successful corporate philanthropy initiatives have several key factors in common. Here are some best practices for developing effective programs.
Appoint someone to be in charge. It is ideal if one person is accountable for heading up the corporate philanthropy program. At larger organizations, this would be the person’s sole job responsibility. At smaller companies, this may be part of an employee’s responsibilities. In either case, he or she should have the authority to report directly to the CEO, which demonstrates to staff that this position and the program are valued by leadership.
Secure senior management support. Without buy-in from leadership, a corporate philanthropy program won’t get off the ground. Employees need to feel that leadership isn’t just tolerating a charitable giving program, but that it supports the program fully and encourages employees to participate. Leadership also needs to establish a reasonable budget and parameters for employees to donate their time.
Promote employee involvement. Support from employees is equally important. They need to be part of the process as the program is developed, and the charities and type of giving are discussed. Causes should be chosen based on what appeals to a majority of staff, not because they are the pet causes of senior management.
Here are some ways to ensure employee participation:
Conduct a survey. A companywide survey is a great way to get feedback about where people want to spend their time and the organization’s resources. Repeat the survey annually to identify changes.
Develop a committee. Put together a committee made up of employees representing different areas of the organization. The committee can do the bulk of the research and groundwork for the program (such as identifying nonprofit organizations and initiatives that support the identified causes) and present them to the general population.
Take a vote. Use the results of the survey and committee research to whittle down the list of charities and opportunities to a manageable number. Then let employees vote on where they would like to focus their efforts.
Clarify missions and budgets. The person in charge needs to determine, with both senior management and the committee, how members of the organization will be involved. Will the company support a lot of charities with small donations or a solo activity? Will it concentrate efforts and dollars on just a few nonprofits? How will the program look? Will the organization donate dollars, time or a combination thereof? How will corporate giving play a role? How will it be organized? Who will take part? How will charities be selected? How will employees be able to give their time and resources? Having a clear plan for the program is a must.
Don’t just write a check! A company can write an enormous check to a deserving organization, but it won’t have the same impact as allowing employees to give the gift of their time. Employees can develop a personal connection to their communities and causes by volunteering. Companies should offer a variety of programs, drives, donations and events to appeal to the broad range of employees’ interests and level of involvement. Some events should be held during work hours to show the company’s commitment to the cause, and others can take place in the evenings and on weekends so families can get involved.
Corporate philanthropy programs are a valuable way for organizations to affect the communities in which they operate positively, and support causes related to their business lines. At the same time, they can build goodwill, enhance their reputations and improve employee relations. These programs also provide an outlet and an opportunity for busy employees who want to volunteer their time. In this economy, corporate philanthropy programs can set organizations apart. Doing it correctly can be a large endeavor, but it can bring many rewards.
Dave Sanford is executive vice president of Client Relations for Winter, Wyman.
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