Large corporations generally have well-defined corporate philanthropy programs that may include foundations, major event sponsorship, and corporation-wide employee involvement in volunteerism and organized giving, often to a well-organized charity such as United Way. But, corporate philanthropy presents an astonishing opportunity for small to mid-sized companies and organizations.
In 2008, despite the economic downturn, Americans donated $307.65 billion in charitable contributions, down 5.7% over 2007, when adjusted for inflation. Corporate philanthropy, which represents 5% of all giving, was down 8%. But, given the depth of the recession, these figures were remarkably generous given much greater losses in savings, 401(k)s, and corporate profitability during the same time period.
Reasons for Corporate Philanthropy
Corporate philanthropy provides significant rewards to the company and its employees, as well as to the organizations served.
- The company is respected as a good corporate citizen in the eyes of the charities served and the communities in which it does business. Employees are attracted to companies with reputations for social responsibility.
- The company and employee donations of money, goods in kind, and the hours of employee volunteering do real good for deserving people, causes, and events. A common method for giving, such as donations to a local food bank, allows the employee to voluntarily contribute and the employer matches that contribution with an equivalent amount, usually up to a specified limit.
- The corporation achieves name recognition, and advertising and marketing attention to the company and its products.
- Employees are proud to work for a giving company and the corporate philanthropy reinforces the company’s reputation as an employer of choice within its community or industry.
- Many supported events are local and require employee participation. This builds a sense of team and enhances employee skills in areas such as leadership, planning, and marketing.
- Corporate philanthropy promotes a sense of company pride and loyalty.
How to Approach Corporate Philanthropy
You may not have the financial wherewithal of a larger corporation, but you can engage the hearts and the minds of your employees in corporate philanthropy by these actions. I have seen these two approaches work for companies. In the first, the executive team determines the portion of the budget that will be devoted to corporate philanthropy. In an alternative method, a team of employees develops a plan for corporate philanthropy and requests the amount budgeted. Either approach can work for corporate philanthropy.
The best corporate philanthropy approaches use these methods.
- Assign a team to lead the corporate philanthropy efforts. I have experienced leadership of the team from community affairs, public relations, or Human Resources. Any leadership can work as long as the team members represent the other two disciplines and a cross section of additional members from across the company.
- Ask the team to come up with a corporate philanthropy plan. The plan must recognize existing philanthropic traditions, and stick within the corporate philanthropy budget, or propose one. As an example, a company had supported the March of Dimes as its key charity for ten years and it was an annual tradition to have a table at a run/walk event. Half the company attended to run or cheer – actually, in my last year there, three quarters of the company attended. When we started a corporate philanthropy team, they understood their efforts needed to build around this existing tradition which already had devoted leaders.
The corporate philanthropy plan must use a process of needs assessment to see what employees want to support: kinds of charities, types of volunteer activities, and amounts of money and in-kind donations that they can afford.
- The committee must recognize that the company must obtain a positive payback for the investment of company time and money, too. Sponsorships that are advertised and publicized, public recognition from the charity, and positive local press are examples of a company’s rewards for corporate philanthropy.
If you organize your corporate philanthropy efforts around approaches such as these, you will develop broad ownership of and participation in the activities. The participation and team work you hoped for among your employees will be an offshoot of your employees’ participation in corporate philanthropy. Employees will feel engaged, connected, and devoted to your company. The company will benefit from the broader positive community exposure.
Everyone wins when your company supports worthwhile charitable causes, community events, and annual giving plans. Your corporate efforts at philanthropy are cherished by your employees, the company, and the causes you support.