Why Charitable Giving is Your Business’ Best Investment

You know that philanthropic work is good for the soul, but do you know that it can be good for business, too?

From improving employee morale and teamwork to attracting the best recruits, creating networking opportunities, forming partnerships and improving community relations, corporate philanthropy makes as much sense as a good marketing or business plan.

Charitable giving is so deeply engrained in our culture that it’s nearly a national mandate. So it should be no surprise to learn that, according to the IBM Institute for Business Value, 50 percent of employees would accept a lower wage to work for a socially conscious company and 40 percent would work longer hours.

Read related: "Insurance charitable foundation highlights industry's good side."

Companies that place social responsibility at the core of their business strategy have found greater growth opportunities. An APCO Corporate Responsibility Study found that 72 percent of consumers have purchased a company’s product based on positive corporate responsibility.

No matter the size of your agency, you can integrate philanthropic and community involvement programs into your business to address social issues while building a healthier corporate culture of employee engagement, professional development and creative partnering.

Read related: "Charitable giving is good corporate policy."

It’s not hard to get started using the 5-step toolkit outlined here:

  1. Assess your values: Before diving in to any philanthropic endeavor, answer some critical questions, such as why you want to get involved, what type of impact you might like to make and what business benefits you expect. As with your personal philanthropic giving, it’s important that any community involvement program be genuinely aligned with your company’s and your personal goals. Charity for the purpose of grabbing the spotlight or reaping a tax write-off won’t result in the benefits you and the causes you embrace could achieve through a more heart-felt and sustainable commitment.
  • Start from the bottom up: Your giving program can improve employee morale, teamwork and retention, and it can help attract top talent to your company, especially if you involve your employees from the outset. Survey your employees to learn what charitable organizations interest them. Invite your employees to help set the framework and decide on the focus of your community involvement program. By involving your employees early, they will share your ownership and commitment from the start. Provide information about various giving options, from matching grants to structured giving tools like donor-advised funds for larger companies or charitable fundraising activities and employee volunteerism options for smaller companies. Invite employees’ ideas for creative ways to meet charitable or community-focused goals. Stay involved by providing the vision, the resources and other support.  
  • Find your natural leaders: From your customer service agents, human resources, marketing and other functional areas, identify those employees who are most excited about and committed to a corporate philanthropy program. Recruit them to form an oversight committee providing ideas, input and program management. Tap into the most enthusiastic and dedicated among your staff, as their energy will inspire  others and help drive the program’s success.
  • Match assets to effort: If your business plans to make donations to charitable organizations, research your options, such as forming a corporate foundation, offering grants or contributing to a donor-advised fund. Even if you don’t have the budget for cash contributions, you can contribute in other ways. For example, one technology provider to the real estate industry partnered with Entrepreneurs Foundation to provide donations and expertise to help Habitat for Humanity secure new land for building projects. Employees then volunteered their time helping to build homes. Do you have employees whose skills could benefit a local nonprofit? Do you have a new idea that needs testing? You could contribute many different types of in-kind services to local nonprofits, or approve a set amount of volunteer-time-off hours for your employees.
  • Make a plan: Yes, this, too, must be planned! If you’re thinking you can do it on the fly, here’s one cautionary tale to consider: A local bank decided to use its ATMs to allow customers to donate money to Japan aid efforts after March’s triple blow of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. The problem? The bank had never offered this charitable service before. Would the bank launch the ATM program for Japan and then offer it for all subsequent crises? Having no plan, the bank was opening itself up to possible criticism if its ATM program was perceived as too selective. Develop a mission or vision statement and outline the basics. What’s your goal and how will you evaluate your results? Will your program include cash grants, matching gifts, formation of a foundation, contributing to a donor-advised fund, employee volunteerism or fundraising? Who will provide oversight and who will serve on the committee? How will decisions be made on specific program activities or grants? Include a calendar of events for the coming year, as well as how you’ll communicate your initiative internally and externally, through online, marketing and public relations channels.
  • As you launch your first community initiative, be sure to evaluate each activity with both your employees and your chosen nonprofit, so you can adjust your tactics as needed to meet your goals. It will be good for your business, your employees and for you.

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