As I sit down to write this month’s column I have decided to tackle a topic near and dear to my heart – philanthropy. According to Merriam Webster, philanthropy is a voluntary, organized effort intended for socially useful purposes. I particularly appreciate the use of the word “organized” in this definition.
My passion for philanthropy began the summer after I graduated from college. At that time I was fortunate to secure an internship with The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, California. During my tenure with the Foundation, I learned about their many grantees and assisted in writing program briefs for their annual report. This was my first exposure to the philosophy behind charitable giving. As you might imagine this prestigious Foundation received countless applications for funding…so the selection process was extremely competitive. As stewards of the Kaiser family’s wishes, program officers followed clearly defined goals and criteria to make their selections.
Many years later as a business owner, I integrated many of these principles into DNA’s corporate giving program: Live Here Give Here. I am often asked questions about the attributes of our annual program. Recently while enjoying a cup of coffee with a business associate he asked the following:
My business has a long history of giving small financial contributions to a wide variety of local causes. Would you recommend that we implement a more strategic approach for our philanthropy?
Jim, your current giving efforts are based on what I would define as “checkbook charity.” Many businesses select this easy to implement method to touch as many groups as possible and to respond to a wide variety of employee interests. At some point during the year the “checkbook” runs out and the giving stops. I, on the other hand, prefer and recommend aligning charitable efforts with your company’s mission and values. By establishing and executing a targeted plan, your philanthropy will have a much greater impact on your appreciative recipients as well as your business.
To build a plan, start by defining your passions and how they overlay with your strategic business goals. With an established focus you can then determine the elements of your philanthropy: dollars, volunteer hours and/or in-kind supplies or services. Like any other area of your operations, you must establish an annual budget that includes the costs associated with each of these approaches.
I am a huge proponent of including volunteer hours as a part of your charitable plan. The benefits can be numerous. By offering time and talent you can leverage your financial contributions to the organization. In addition, many companies find that a solid volunteerism program is an important employee recruitment and retention tool. Company-sponsored volunteer activities offer an opportunity for employees to get to know each other outside of the workplace: thus fostering team spirit while supporting a good cause.
Here are a few other considerations:
IDENTIFY A COMPANY CHAMPION
Choose someone who is empowered to manage your business’ philanthropy. In addition, I like to engage other interested employees to evaluate and select recipients that align well with the established plan.
PROMOTE YOUR FUNDING PRIORITIES AND PROPOSAL GUIDELINES
And be ready to say “no.” Saying no is never easy, but handle it with grace and offer feedback when possible. I often make a personal call, though I recognize this is not always possible.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK and KEEP A PULSE ON THE COMMUNITY
Align with healthy and sustainable organizations that serve an established community need. And don’t be afraid to request financial statements and documentation of how donations are spent.
DON’T BE SHY ABOUT SHARING YOUR COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT EFFORTS
Sharing your efforts publicly will help to build awareness about the causes you support as well as inspire others to get involved. And clients and customers like to associate with businesses that support worthy causes.
In closing, Jim I encourage you to implement a strategic approach for your philanthropy. You will be rewarded with an enhanced reputation for your business, increased brand awareness, improved customer loyalty, greater employee satisfaction and retention…not to mention that it offers you an opportunity to truly MAKE A DIFFERENCE in our community.
Until next time,
Thank you to the Upstate Business Journal (UBJ) for inviting me to be a regular contributor to their publication. My goal in writing this column is to share my passion for nonprofits by bringing to light relevant information and success stories. This column is presented in a question and answer format. So whether you are a nonprofit professional, an active community volunteer or someone just looking for a way to get involved, I want to hear from you. I invite you to read all of my UBJ columns here.