Whatever size business you operate, a philanthropic giving program should be a part of the equation. In the past, my company supported charities and attended galas and events to show our support. However, our new program will help ensure that our giving stays at a high level while streamlining the partnerships and ensuring the impact is increased overall.
Starting this program can take several routes, and I would say that most paths are acceptable because, in the end, you are supporting community and charitable causes. But once you have landed on the fact that you want to create a program for your business or you want to re-tool your current giving to a more cohesive program, you should first ask yourself two key questions:
• Do you or other leaders in the company have a specific passion point or cause that is near and dear to you, or do you engage with specific community initiatives outside of the office?
• What do you want to achieve for the company with this program?
Both questions are straightforward, but the second question must be answered completely for the program to work. Also, it is not an easy question to answer, and it might not lead you where you think.
For example, bigger organizations need to be motivated by results and perceptions from stakeholders. This motivation also motivates smaller companies, but there might be more of a community focus with some of the owners’ interests intertwined. When you answer these two questions and understand what the program is supposed to do and who you want to operate it with, it can be effective. One-off, or ad hoc programs, typically have shorter shelf lives and are not sustainable (they lack the requisite passion).
When you reach the point of creating (or re-tooling) a corporate philanthropy program, you can now really dig into how much you want to try and accomplish and into the details of where and who. So, as you go along this very fulfilling journey, here are three tips to make sure you stay focused on creating the best possible program for all parties (your company, the causes, your employees and you).
Engage employees to build morale and create culture.
Employees appreciate the support that their company provides the community; however, if you can create the program to include your team members, its effectiveness can increase dramatically. There are several ways to engage your employees in your program. Most businesses are facing a fairly lean workforce these days, and when this is the case, being involved with something that supports the community where you live and work, and is bigger than yourselves, will contribute to their sense of pride and togetherness at work.
Not everyone can donate, so it is imperative to provide other options for employees to feel engaged and help the cause. In addition to money, time and effort are both good ways to give back. Company-wide event participation and scheduling opportunities at different times will help allow for maximum engagement. For example, for years, my company has supported a pillar event for a large regional charity, and we make sure that most of our team attends the event and either participates or helps operate the event as a partner. This is used as a wonderful team-building experience.
Build and support your brand and company reputation.
I believe there is a fine line with how much you should talk about or promote the giving that you do as a company. However, I do not think you should be shy to do so in a professional way that will strengthen your brand’s reputation. It is a factor for why you would put a program into action, so you should be allowed to talk about it. But be careful; it can be a slippery slope if you overdo it, and if it is perceived (even if it is not) as being inauthentic and a corporate ploy, you can lose some or all of that benefit.
There are extremely creative ways to do this, and the best ones usually involve the charity or cause themselves being involved in the promotion and discussion of the program. They should be happy to talk about it, as it can lead to more companies like you creating programs to support them. So invite them to co-author some messaging about the platform and tell the world what you are doing. The world needs more good news!
Be sure to align your resources.
Again, this is an area that can be tricky to navigate. Like all programs, whether capital expenditures or marketing, you can define how much money you want or plan to spend at the beginning. Of course, this is common and natural. You need to know the budget going in to make sure all the work is appropriate. However, you also cannot be too firm. As you build out the program and create these amazing community initiatives, there might be real benefits to spending above what you had planned to. Be flexible with resource allocation because it might be worth it and necessary to spend on a bigger program than what was initially planned.
In summary, when you determine the goals of your program and what cause(s) you want to support, bigger is better. Be flexible and build out the best possible program for all parties involved. Bigger is better in terms of the impact you can make in your community; however, be mindful that bigger means more resources and not just dollars and cents. A firm with more resources to devote to these activities or a greater level of employee engagement can then accordingly generate a more involved program. A smaller firm that cannot give as much time and human capital can still find its niche and make a significant impact; it just has to be scaled differently. Enjoy the journey, and always remember that you are doing a good thing, so have pride in it.