Getting Started in Corporate Philanthropy
Business guru Charles Handy, writing in Harvard Business Review, summarized the value of philanthropic businesses by saying, “A good business is a community with a purpose.” Here are six steps to setting up a corporate philanthropy program.
Step One: Values audit.
Start from your values base. Most corporations begin with an audit or evaluation of their values, bringing together leadership and a representation of the staff to identify and articulate the company’s ethos and how it relates to the company’s mission and values.
What does your company care about: kids, shelter, health, education, environment, affordable housing, and domestic violence? For example, Polaroid had created a foundation, managed by a committee of employees, to increase self-sufficiency among the disadvantaged by building their business skills with computers, literacy, and business comportment. Pitney Bowes focused its commitment on local economic development in Stamford, CT, by keeping its corporate headquarters in downtown Stamford to provide an anchor, and works with grassroots organizations to improve the community.
Step Two: Engage directly.
Increasingly, company employees look for ways to have an intense, short-term impact rather than a sustained, lower-effort commitment. For example, Volunteers of America found that corporations often prefer an all-day or weekend-long group project, such as painting a women’s shelter, serving at a soup kitchen or repairing a playground at a low-income housing development to the longer-term individual commitments such as being a big sister, volunteering to coach at the Y, or being a literacy tutor.
Step Three: Explore partnerships.
Partner with a foundation or social cause already established and visible in the community, such as a human services organization, symphony, senior center or a science or arts museum. Look for an organization that aligns with your interests, and consider how broad its reach is, whom it serves, and its reputation. For example, if your employees value community service, look for an organization that will find a role for them teaching, building, or improving something in the community rather than just giving donations.
For example, Cisco Systems has been a partner with City Year; a youth service corps, since its inception, as a founding partner providing both funding and technical support. Cisco has helped harness the Internet to build a model of capacity building, which can be replicated in other communities, allowing City Year to grow from one to 19 communities.
Step Four: Get beyond fund-raising events.
Many corporations participate in events that benefit a specific charity, such as a walk for breast cancer, a bicycle ride for brain tumor research, or a ballgame to benefit children with cancer. While these are all good causes, your company might get more strategic value from something locally based that engages employees. Employees are the best ambassadors a company has, and their heightened participation and visibility in the community speaks well about and reflects well on your company.
Edgewater Technology, for example, partners with Angel Flight New England, a nonprofit organization providing air transportation services to medical patients unable to pay for commercial flights. Edgewater loaned six employees for a four-month job to get Angel Flight’s scheduling system integrated and on-line to improve their services.
Step Five: Institute polices and practices.
The most effect corporate philanthropy programs are well thought-through and formalized, with written guidelines to keep them focused; objectives to quantify the desired results; and specific policies and practices to keep them objective and transparent. Of these, the most effective philanthropy programs tie this package together with corporate business goals and decision-making.
Kellogg’s has a values statement, which includes becoming “an asset in each community, region, and country in which we operate”, and details how in a 4-point statement including quality control of its products through investment in the community; practice good citizenship; and protect the environment.
Starbucks Coffee has formalized a statement of its beliefs in human rights, diversity and the environment and its mission and principles of social responsibility, as well as short- and long-term goals for industry leadership on these issues; and specific objectives for annual review.
Step Six: Track and review outcomes.
Measures of effectiveness are an important part of your corporate philanthropy program, to know whether and how it has made a difference and met its goals. Measures are of two kinds: corporate impact and community impact.
Corporate impact measures may include, depending on your program, the number of employees involved in community service; changes in employee recruitment or retention results; positive feedback from employees and shareholders; benchmarked changes in the community’s perception and opinions of the company; more inquiries from media or analyst community about the company; or awards received by an organization in recognition of your program.
Community impact measures might include, for example, how a partner program has grown because of your actions; numbers of people helped by the direct giving or giving through a nonprofit; cleaner parks and watersheds; benchmarked changes such as improved literacy, higher math scores, lower incidence of low-birth-weight babies; cleaner, safer city streets; changes in the capacity of an organization to serve more people by what they have learned from your company.
There are a variety of ways that corporations can create philanthropy programs that benefit their employees, their brand and business, and make a difference in the community. The most effective programs start from a values base and move out to the community for a positive impact on issues and people that make up the social fabric and the marketplace in which businesses operate.