Five Tips For Meaningful Philanthropy

 Five Tips For Meaningful Philanthropy


 By Debbie Johnson

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is growing in popularity, from the largest multinational companies like Procter & Gamble or Unilever to small firms like Give Realty or Hotels for Hope.

Even though companies have varied fiscal year-ends, giving seems to reach a fevered pitch in December because there are lots of opportunities to help make sure the holidays are special for everyone in the community.

In order to ensure that giving back is most fulfilling, businesses should take the five steps below for meaningful philanthropy.

  • Be Strategic

A business would not succeed without a solid strategic plan, and so it is with the most effective philanthropy.

Some companies will find aligning philanthropy with their business model and goals works best. For example, a lumber company might donate wood to Habitat for Humanity for home builds. Or a beauty salon might donate haircuts to Dress for Success to support women seeking to look their best when job hunting. Other businesses may find choosing causes that employees are passionate about leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement. These causes might range from alleviating poverty to environmental protection to animal welfare. Or sometimes, the boss really does know best which causes will benefit the business the most, so the CEO or executive team will make the selection.

Being strategic is hard work because it is natural to want to support everything, but narrowing down to just a few areas of support creates more impact and avoids spreading energies too thin.

  • Choose Carefully

Not all organizations are worthy of a company’s hard-earned money or energy. Groups like Family Connections, an Austin organization that failed recently due to the executive director’s theft, help us realize the importance of vetting the organizations that will receive philanthropic resources. Making sure the nonprofit is financially stable and well run are two steps in the right direction. There are many tools to help with this process, including a newly redesigned website and

Better yet, personally finding out more about a nonprofit by asking questions in the following areas will help guide investment to the right organization:

  1. Mission: clear mission and vision guiding the organization
  2. Governance: structured board with appropriate oversight
  3. Executive leadership: passionate and equipped to guide the organization to accomplish its goals
  4. Fiscal responsibility and sustainability: diversified funding that more than covers expenses each year
  5. Effective programs: outcomes are measured and achieve the organization’s mission

There are many cautionary tales of nonprofits that have undervalued, misused or squandered donations. Take the time to investigate recipient nonprofits for a better chance of making a good investment.

  • Time Is Money

While cold, hard cash is always a welcome gift for a nonprofit, two other forms of business philanthropy are also valuable: volunteer time and donated products or services. While a firm that is flush with profit can afford substantial monetary donations, a start-up that does not have discretionary cash might be able to offer employee manpower or brainpower. For example, eBay donated services by creating work teams of six individuals who would use their considerable technical skills to help a group of nonprofit organizations over the course of six months. Standard Heating of Minneapolis donated product, providing a much-needed HVAC system to a nonprofit that was renovating space in order to serve its clients. And Habitat for Humanity utilizes mostly volunteers to build homes for their clients.

As long as the receiving nonprofit really needs what is offered, all three types of giving can be great ways to create a rewarding giving experience for staff and meaningful results for the community.

  • Evaluate Your Gifts

No company would neglect to evaluate its own results, and a business should not invest hard-earned resources in philanthropy without knowing the impact. Evaluating the investment in the community is a critical step in figuring out if the business should continue to invest in that opportunity or similar options in the future.

Examples of results to measure:

  • Number of employees engaged in philanthropy programs
  • Amount donated by the business and/or employees
  • Number of volunteer hours contributed
  • Community impact from the program supported (for example, x kids went to college, y kids are reading at grade level after attending the program, etc.)
  • Employee morale/engagement
  • Employee feedback on their volunteer opportunity
  • Employees retained due to company philanthropy
  • Number of positive media mentions of community involvement

The Business of Generosity says, “Generosity is a heuristical practice. As a generosity community, we do something, see what happens and figure out what to do next at that point. Again and again and again.”

  • Tell Your Story

Humility may lead to keeping philanthropy anonymous or not “blowing your own horn.” However well told stories about the positive results of giving back can be very inspirational for other businesses and very engaging for employees.

Don’t forget there are two main targets for communication: internal and external. A noted researcher, CONE, found 87 percent of Americans felt their job loyalty would increase if their company supported activities that improved society. Telling your story internally lets employees see themselves and their co-workers in a positive light as givers and helps them be proud of where they work because their company supports the community.

External communication is important to let others know about a company’s good work. Research shows that 80 percent of US adults would favor a brand associated with a good cause over another one of similar price and quality. But consumers won’t know which brand to choose if no one tells them about their generosity.

There are many methods for communicating philanthropy, including newsletters, website, social media, meetings, blogs, new-hire orientations, brochures, public relations and industry relations. Human-interest stories and photos are highly engaging, so use storytelling for maximum effect.

Whether giving time, money, product, service or all of the above, be sure to invest wisely to get the most for the business and its employees alike.

Debbie Johnson brings her business expertise as a past Vice President for AT&T/Lucent Technologies and now consultant since 2002. Debbie has extensive nonprofit volunteering and board service which combines with her business experience to help clients be strategic with philanthropy.


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