Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Building on the Best of Business Philanthropy-Six Months of Looking Back and Looking Forward

I just passed my sixth month anniversary of writing this blog. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done because it has given me a birdseye view and an appreciation of the many ways that businesses have contributed to solving problems in local their communities and in the world.

These stories about business philanthropy serve as examples of inspiration and caring and about "how to give and get back." They also reveal the common factors that contribute to the successful carrying out of a philanthropy program or project.

These are key factors and themes that I think stand out:

They have a mission and purpose for their philanthropy.

Whether it’s a bigger company like Sleep Train that has made a commitment to the helping foster kids in California by collecting shoes and other items year round, or a small shoe repair shop that I stumbled upon the other day that collects old shoes for the homeless, they have a clear sense of who they want to help, why they want to help, and how they can achieve that.

They partner with others to better achieve their philanthropic goals.

Partnership with customers in raising money for a charity.
It’s easy to immediately engage a customer in supporting a cause by simply collecting donations at the checkout: Whole Foods does it for their own foundation or for a local charity; a small local fitness center like Curves has a canned food drive; customers buy the yellow capped bottle of Tide laundry detergent that donates a portion of the proceeds of the sale to families affected by natural disasters. Consumer philanthropy is becoming an increasingly more significant part of business philanthropy and more and more business are coming up with ways to involve the consumer in their giving.

Partnership with other businesses creates more impact and results.
The Chamber of Commerce in Mountain View, CA has developed a Shop Local program with“ a heart” where businesses have partnered to support local schools while attracting more customers to their businesses. In Detroit Michigan, businesses have joined together to sponsor fun fundraising events for the Live to Give Foundation that helps needy and homeless families. Mission Street Food in San Francisco describes the effort between themselves, the chefs, and the restaurant they work with, as a charitable collaboration. Collaboration once again seems to be a very powerful way for business to do good.

Partnership with the charity creates benefits to both.
Corporate sponsorships have been around for a long time, but involvement with the charity by contributing other resources of time and expertise adds more benefit to both the business and the charity. While donations have declined in the last year, cause marketing has seen a big rise. Cause marketing helps both the cause and the business increase their visibility to the public and gain a positive brand image. Companies like the The Gap have partnered with the RED campaign, which has brought attention to and to raise money for AIDS in Africa. On a local level, a community charity, CSA in Mountain View CA, has partnered with several restaurants for a monthly event, Chefs Who Care, that raises money for the charity, and has brought tons of publicity to the partnering restaurants.

They utilize other non-financial resources.

Volunteering their time and expertise and pro-bono services to non-profits have risen dramatically in recent years. Studies have shown that volunteers become donors and that holds true in for businesses also. Information for developing a successful Employee Volunteer Program is at Points of Light Foundation. Information for local volunteer opportunities can be found through Hands On Network, the volunteer-focused arm of Points of Light Institute, which is the largest volunteer network in the nation and includes more than 250 Hands On Action Centers in the country.
In-kind donations, where a business can donate its services or goods are well received by non-profits as reduces their operational costs as well as can be counted as contributions.

They think about how their giving goes further.
Anyone who watches public television can see how corporate matching funds are an effective method for increasing private donations. This method is also useful for small businesses that are unable to donate huge amounts on their own. There are many other ways to “multiply” a donation amount. A small real estate business owner in the state of Washington gave each employee 500.00 to donate to a charity. Every single employee came up with a creative way to use the initial amount and expand it.

While the economy has forced businesses to cut back on their philanthropy, at the same time innovative thinking has made it easier than ever for business to engage in charitable giving and to continue to “do well by doing good." Most importantly, when a business really wants to contribute, no matter how limited the resources are, they are so many ways that this can be accomplished. This is less about capability and more about the desire. And my desire for the next six months (and further) is to help businesses to build and expand their contribution to their communities and the world.

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