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8 Powerful Ways To Elevate Your Corporate Philanthropy Efforts

In today's business world, corporate philanthropy is more than a buzzword. Engaged consumers want to do business with brands that give back — and they're not the only ones. An effective, modern employee giving program is fast becoming a key benefit to attract and maintain top talent. Corporate giving isn't a new concept, but it is one that's evolved — and continues to evolve — over time. 

The Evolution of Corporate Philanthropy

In the early days, the owners of companies did good things out of a combination of noblesse oblige and enlightened self-interest. In most cases, they gave to charities that aligned with their interests and pet projects, which may or may not have had anything to do with the purpose of their business. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, for example, famously championed public libraries because he believed that the key to betterment was education. Henry Ford founded the Edison Institute (now the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village) to share his enthusiasm for American inventions and industry. And Lane Bryant, who founded the first company to sell maternity clothing for women to wear in public, offered free clothing to any woman who lost her wardrobe in a disaster, and donated generously to Jewish charities. 

It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century, in the post-World War II era, that philanthropy became institutionalized. Large corporations, such as Ford, AT&T, Phillip Morris and Chase Manhattan Bank established foundations and corporate giving programs that were an integral part of their business. They were motivated by a sense of social responsibility, similar to the business magnates that came before them. The giving programs were often focused on the communities where they did business, and they often made grants with little consideration of publicity or benefit to the business.

In the 1980s, corporate philanthropy underwent a seismic shift with the rise of strategic philanthropy, which ties corporate giving to the strategic marketing and business goals of a company. It's the genesis of the popular phrase "doing well by doing good," which suggests that businesses can benefit their bottom line by giving back to the community in public ways. Corporate philanthropy, done "right" could boost brand recognition, generate goodwill and assure customer loyalty. Many companies aligned themselves with well-known public charities, such as the United Way, and created giving programs for employees within their companies. 

Strategic Philanthropy

Strategic philanthropy also took on another meaning with the rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Rather than thinking solely of how a corporate giving strategy could benefit the company, corporate boards began thinking strategically about how to tackle big societal problems, like climate change, poverty and social inequalities. While the goals are commendable, the approach had significant shortcomings. As Katherine Fulton notes in an article on the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s website, making strategy is not the same as making change. 

One of the major shortcomings of the typical top-down giving program lies in the question: Who decides what we fund and based on what knowledge? Fulton suggests that the people making those decisions are often those furthest removed from the problem, and thus, least aware of what's actually needed to effect change in a community. It also often means that a company is funding charities that are not aligned with the charities and causes that are important to its employees.

A second shortcoming — often directly related to the first — is friction. While Fulton focuses on the meticulous record-keeping and inflexibility that grantmakers often require, the same need for documentation and paperwork can also hamper much simpler corporate giving programs, such as programs that match employee donations. Not surprisingly, the harder you make it for employees to access a donation matching program, the fewer employees will take advantage of it.

Modernizing Corporate Philanthropy

Technology has brought some significant changes to the workplace, to society and to philanthropy. Social media, for example, makes it much easier to publicize initiatives, crowdsource solutions and connect with consumers and other stakeholders.  

On the employee side, modern HR technology takes much of the record-keeping burden off the HR department while providing employees with more transparency in managing their own benefits. This extends to businesses who want a better way to provide an employee corporate giving benefit. A modern workplace giving portal makes it easier for employees to engage in charitable giving by removing friction while providing the company with the ability to track trends in corporate giving and evaluate the effectiveness of their corporate philanthropy. By empowering employees to make donations when they want and to whom they want while providing them with particular tax benefits, a corporation can increase employee engagement and retention, improve company morale and attract top talent.

8 Ways To Take Your Corporate Philanthropy to the Next Level

Deciding to engage in charitable giving as a business is always the right move. Whether you're trying to upgrade an existing program or start fresh with a new community giving policy, these tips go beyond common "best practices" to help you create an effective, engaging program that's truly next level.

1. Make It Personal

Include all of your employees in the decision-making process when choosing charities to support. Better yet, let each of them decide which charities and causes are most important to them. Employees will be more engaged in your philanthropic efforts when they're giving to causes that mean a lot to them personally.

2. Support Volunteerism

Giving money is only one way to give back to the community. Volunteering with community organizations offers far-reaching benefits for your employees and your company. Companies that have volunteer days build deeper connections with the community and foster a team spirit among employees. You can support volunteerism in different ways:

  • Give paid time off for volunteering in the community.
  • Donate a specific dollar amount to a donation matching fund for each volunteer hour worked.
  • Have team-building volunteer opportunities, like building a playground or painting classrooms in a school. 

3. Make It Easier for Employees To Give

If you already use a donation matching program, upgrade it to make it easier for your employees to access it. If you don't, consider starting one. According to Double the Donation, 84% of employees say they're more likely to give to charity if their company offers a donation matching program.  

4. Give Them More Reason To Give

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) offer key tax benefits for donors but have traditionally been reserved for those who have tax accountants. The Groundswell platform allows you to extend those tax benefits to your employees, giving them even more incentive to participate.

5. Shine a Light on Giving

The best programs will fail if no one knows about them. Make updates on corporate giving goals and strategies part of your regular internal communications. Highlight volunteers who give back. Be transparent about corporate giving goals and report back to employees on your progress to them. Create a giving corner in your employee newsletter and highlight all the ways that employees can engage in giving back. 

6. Put Your Employees in Charge

In addition to making it easier for your employees to make individual donations to the causes they support, get them on the team for decisions about company-wide efforts. No one knows the community better than they do. Not only will you be giving them a bigger role in your company, you'll also know that your business is doing work that's truly needed in the community.

7. Celebrate Your Team Publicly

Use those social media accounts to highlight team members who are giving back to the community. Share photos of volunteer days or host fundraising appeals. The publicity will burnish your business reputation in the community and the public recognition will make your employees feel valued and appreciated.

8. Take Advantage of Analytics

A key benefit of the Groundswell app is the ability to set funding goals and track progress toward them. Track key metrics to analyze and adjust your corporate giving strategy, and communicate your progress to help employees recognize their role in the bigger corporate picture.

Elevate Your Corporate Philanthropy

Corporate philanthropy is an essential part of any business strategy today. By investing in modern technology and innovative giving strategies, you can increase employee engagement, improve community relations and improve your bottom line. For more information on how Groundswell can work with you to create a customized corporate philanthropy program, get in touch with us today.

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