At a time when some in the business community are predicting a major shift in how and whether companies will continue to make corporate philanthropy a centerpiece of CSR programs, it’s time we talk about “smart” giving tactics. Simply giving money away, as well-intentioned as that might be and enabling businesses to check off a “community engagement” box in a CSR program, usually doesn’t result long-term results – for either the charity or the business doing the giving. In many ways, without a strategic and integrated program, tied directly to an organization’s overall mission, vision, and values, such giving can actually undermine a business’ authenticity when it purports to support societal improvement.
Most businesses that engage in philanthropy, simply give money away to a variety of disparate causes or perhaps a group of similar organizations within the umbrella of a particular cause (eg. homelessness, child education, environmental issues, veterans’ organizations, etc.). Unfortunately, maintaining this practice without some connection to one’s organizational mission misses a whole host of benefits that an organization could otherwise gain had the giving been more strategically made.
By example, last week I met with an owner-chef and restauranteur about trying to better direct their company’s philanthropy program. Like many in the restaurant business, entrepreneurial, owner-chefs are maxed out in both time and capacity to strategize their charity work. Most smaller, independent restauranteurs don’t have private foundations or dedicated community engagement staff. Often, responding to requests falls onto the owner themselves or a marketing person (who would otherwise be spending their time marketing the company), or sometimes even a spouse or well-intentioned, but untrained staff member.
As we discussed trying to better define the types of organizations to whom he would focus his charitable giving, we discussed different causes. I asked him what causes were high on his list for charity work. He replied that he had been thinking about focusing his giving on veterans’ organizations, to which I then inquired with a series of questions:
Ultimately, the answer to all of these questions was “no.” I, therefore, suggested that after we go through a mission/vision/values exercise with himself and the key folks in their company (partners, investors, restaurant managers), that perhaps we look to causes more aligned with the business.
For example, if one of the clear business imperatives is to support small farmers or urban farms, then the charity program could do the same. Similarly, if the preference is to buy local or organic, then focus the charity on local, organic farmers and their issues. If your restaurants favor vegetarian or vegan cuisine, then directing your charitable giving to programs that support education and work in those areas. Likewise, if you’re primarily a steakhouse, perhaps organizations that promote responsible (anti-cruelty) animal husbandry, free range, and free of antibiotics or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is for you. If you’re known for your seafood, then organizations that protect our oceans and promote sustainable seafood would be a good place to put your charitable efforts.
Once you figure out “who you are” as an organization, building out a charitable giving program that “makes sense” is fairly easy to do. In addition, you can connect your employee and community engagement programs, as well as your sustainability program (supply chain, in particular) to your corporate philanthropy. That way your CSR program is much more strategic, integrated, aligned with your values, and most importantly, authentic to both your internal and external stakeholders.
While giving to charity to help out others in the world or within one’s community is a laudable and commendable endeavor, doing so in a way that aligns with your business and core company values leads to a much more effective and mutually-beneficial relationship with the charities with whom you partner.