Corporate philanthropy: maximizing your business’ return on giving

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Nancy Osmond Popovich

From endowments to matching grants, team service days and giving boards, Virginia businesses are giving back in new and exciting ways. In fact, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that corporate donations are expected to increase by 4.8 percent in 2016.

While these numbers are promising, they belie a deeper truth: many corporations are still not living up to their full philanthropic potential. When these organizations fall short in giving, they not only fail to reap the full business benefits that philanthropy offers, but the neediest in our communities suffer, as well.

Most charities depend on corporate dollars to succeed. But over the course of my career as a financial advisor, I’ve noticed that the reverse is true as well. Many of the most successful companies and businesspeople that I work with are devoted philanthropists, donating time and resources to various causes that improve and enhance the lives of people in the communities in which their businesses operate.

This is not only because giving back is the right thing to do. Doing good can also be very good for your business, but only if you do it right. Here are the top five things that your company should be doing to maximize the return on the investments it makes in your community.

Give time, not just money

One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make when it comes to charitable contributions is that they focus solely on the monetary investment. How much money did they give this year? Was it to the right causes? Should they increase their giving next year?

It’s true that without dollars, charities cannot support their causes. But even with large donations, what charities really need is people to carry out their mission. All of those corporate dollars don’t mean anything without a commitment of time and talent behind the donation.

Don’t donate a penny if you don’t also have time to give to the causes your company supports. As businesspeople, we understand that time is one of our most valuable resources. The same attitude must be applied to corporate giving in order to create real and lasting change in our communities.

Create a culture of giving

Time is also the way in which your employees become brand ambassadors of goodwill. Most companies give to help create or enhance a positive corporate image; they want their good deeds to be known. This might seem a bit cynical to admit, but it nonetheless is true.

To help make your company’s good deeds known and cultivate authentic ambassadors for doing good, empower employees to act. Provide them paid time off to volunteer for causes in which they are invested. Match funds they give to causes dear to them. Make it easy for them to put your company in a positive light.

The positive effects of corporate philanthropy are multiplied when companies support employees in their personal charitable efforts and build that culture of giving. The connections they make — on boards, at events or through networking — further expand your business’ reach. It puts your people in touch with decision makers at companies that can help grow your business.

Don’t try to fake it

To truly make an impact, you have to want to make a difference. To make the most of the time and money your company donates to its philanthropic efforts, use the opportunity to showcase your firm’s integrity and trustworthiness. While writing a check is easy, it is also easy for people, including customers, clients and the community, to tell whether a company is truly invested or not.

Rather than the positive image you are trying to project by doing good, half-hearted philanthropy ultimately can become a net-negative, showcasing your business as uncaring and uncommitted, two things no client or customer wants.

The combination of time and money invested shines through in tangible results. Most often, this occurs when companies concentrate their philanthropic resources on one or a select few causes.

Whether it is a children’s cause, public health, our military and veterans, or some other initiative, take the time to evaluate what your company stands for and how you can express that through your philanthropic efforts. The more you can commit to that cause, the bigger difference you’ll be able to make and the more you will gain.

Network and connect

Because I feel strongly about empowering women, I have personally become involved in organizations that work to ensure full and equitable access for women in business and healthcare, including the Virginia Hospital Center’s Women’s Health and Empowerment Circle. I know the time and work I’ve contributed to this goal makes a difference in many lives. What I have discovered through this work, but did not expect, was the change it would have on my career.

Being involved with the Women’s Health and Empowerment Circle and other charitable organizations has helped me transform my career. The connections I’ve made participating in advisory boards, organizing events and fundraising have resulted in new leads for my firm. The organizational, managerial, budgeting and writing skills I’ve learned and honed through charity work are ones that I tap into every day as I am advising my own clients.

This is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of corporate philanthropy. Most companies strongly encourage their employees to seek out networking opportunities or groups. Philanthropy offers you such a group, with the added bonus of knowing that the other members share your values and that, while networking, you are lifting up those in need and building a better future for the community that you share. 

Spread the good news

Corporate giving also gives your company the opportunity to get its name out in the community and helps you connect to more people. You can and should leverage your philanthropic efforts by sponsoring events, through marketing and public relations efforts, adding your philanthropic affiliations to marketing collateral and energizing your current customers or clients to join the cause. The spirit of giving has tremendous potential to cement existing relationships and develop new ones.

In short, if you want your business to be a leader in the community, you need to actually show leadership. Give back the right way, the meaningful and purposeful way, because it’s the right thing to do, but also to build and grow your company and community. These motivations are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive. With a little strategy and a lot of commitment, your business will see significant returns from investing in causes close to its heart.

When corporate philanthropy is done right, everybody benefits.

Nancy Osmond Popovich is managing director at The Wise Investor Group at Baird, an investment management firm in Reston. She can be reached at is NPopovich@rwbaird.com.

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