Getting the Most from Your Corporate Giving
[Reprinted with permission from the Triad Business Journal, In the Boardroom section, Friday, Dec. 16, 2011]
Americans expect businesses to be socially responsible. And because corporate philanthropy is especially apparent at this time of year, your business could be noticed if it wasn’t involved with some type of charitable work. However, a dilemma arises when you look around and believe your philanthropic efforts are lost in the sea of corporate generosity. So, how can you distinguish your philanthropy program?
First, decide the business purpose for your socially responsible actions. Are you trying to strengthen your brand position or enhance your corporate image? Perhaps, you are trying to engage your workforce more fully. Maybe, you may want to help broaden your market base.
Next, do your homework. It’s critical to see what others are doing, so you don’t compete for recognition in an overcrowded arena. If others are already capturing major media and customer attention for a similar cause, it will be more challenging to gain recognition for your organization and selected nonprofit.
Equipped with this knowledge, you can determine the best approach for developing a foundation for a sustainable social program and gaining positive attention and support for the nonprofit and your endeavors. To assist you, consider the following:
Once you know what is out there, look for connections. For example, is there a way to involve customers because they care about the cause? Subaru’s holiday “Share the Love” program engages customers by letting them select a charity from an approved list. Thus, participating customers “help make a difference.”
Localized activities increase the chance of gaining community support and make it easier for donors to see results. Plus, working with a credible partner that ensures the validity of the cause, frees your business from complex evaluation and audit procedures.
The Salisbury Post, located in Salisbury, NC, has done both. The newspaper asked readers to donate used handbags for a two-day sale. The recycled wallets, children’s bags and totes were sold for $1 and handbags for $5. Items were a great deal but especially affordable for those on a budget. Proceeds went to Christmas Happiness, a county-run Social Services program that provides financial assistance to qualifying families who need help buying Christmas gifts for their children.
Gaining recognition for your company and improving employee engagement are possible through employee volunteerism programs. In the case of Symantec, an on-line support and software security tools company, its work force becomes “real” to the public through its community service initiatives. Offices from Sydney, Australia, to Roseville, MN, select one or more of the corporate philanthropic areas of concentration. Then, particularly during November and December, employees feed the hungry, provide warm clothing to the homeless and deliver gifts to underprivileged children through community-centered nonprofits. Emerging from behind computers to offer a personal touch, the resulting human experience creates a long-lasting and noteworthy impact, enhancing the company’s reputation and inspiring the work force.
Uniquely-designed programs and linking to celebrity star power can capture media attention and garner customer support. This contributes to existing marketing efforts and sales while “doing good.” Macy’s is adept at designing such creative, holiday philanthropic projects.
This year, Macy’s capitalized on its well-established holiday giving tradition with the introduction of its celebrity ornament collection. Fourteen designers, including Calvin Klein, Martha Stewart, Jessica Simpson, Michael Kors, Betsey Johnson and Ralph Lauren, collaborated to create exclusive holiday ornaments. With the sale of each decoration, the Make-a-Wish Foundation receives 10 percent of the purchase price.
If you are a business-to-business organization, you can customize holiday gifts in a socially responsible manner. Not only could donating to your customers’ favorite charities on their behalf be preferred over an individual gift, the personalized gesture demonstrates your attentiveness to your clients’ desires. The approach could enable recipients to achieve corporate social responsibility goals as well.
Many customers expect corporate generosity at the holidays. Yet regardless of the size or type of your business, it is likely you don’t have the luxury of sustaining a socially responsible, philanthropic initiative without a supporting business case to finance your good work. By approaching this corporate imperative strategically, you can “do good” in a manner that will build your brand and your sales, connect you with customers and generate the financial support necessary to ensure an ongoing, holiday tradition of generosity.