How to genuinely and wisely infuse philanthropy into your culture

In our cynical world, consumers and employees alike are increasingly seeking out ethical companies. Here’s the right way to incorporate generosity into your work.

How to wisely use philanthropy

Businesses can no longer survive on sales and new products alone.

Companies must have public (and internal) support to thrive in today’s competitive environment. This is where philanthropy plays a role.

Companies that contribute toward the greater global good are often better at motivating employees and satisfying customers. However, charitable initiatives must be visible and meaningful in a way that unites, inspires and motivates your stakeholders. People are loyal to companies they believe in, and people innately lean toward organizations with a giving spirit.

Business philanthropy is strong

According to Charity Navigator, charitable giving in the U.S. continues to increase year after year. In 2018, corporations in the United States donated nearly $18 billion to nonprofits. Whether through volunteering or donating financially, businesses are clearly pursuing philanthropy as a crucial component of strategic success.

As millennials become some of the biggest spenders and influential workers in our society, it’s important to note what they care about in businesses. For many, corporate social responsibility is near the top of the list. About 33% of all consumers now choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good, and 78% of Americans believe that companies must enhance society, too.

Companies are listening to this sentiment, and philanthropic activity is increasing.

Take Warby Parker, for example. Through its Buy a Pair, Give a Pair initiative, the company helps train adults to administer eye exams and provides glasses for students in need. Warby Parker works with partners such as VisionSpring, the Department of Health in Baltimore and the Department of Education in New York, and many people love the brand as a result.

Of course, not every company that gives to worthy causes is beloved by the public and its employees. No amount of charity can overcome a toxic culture, poor leadership or horrendous workplace conditions.

In some cases, excessive amounts of philanthropic work (or excessive tooting of one’s own charitable horn) can raise suspicion. Loudly touting your service or generosity can irritate instead of inspire—and make you seem phony, devious or worse.

How to implement philanthropy wisely

If your company is keen to pursue philanthropic activities, it’s crucial to establish your motivation. Why are you giving to others, and what exactly are your goals?

Once you’ve established the motivation for why you want to give, tap into the values your company shares with your customers. There should be congruence between what your company wants to support philanthropically and what your ideal consumer is passionate about. In some cases, these parallels might even help you more strongly define your brand’s morals, principles and culture.

Consider Keep Nature Wild, a clothing company that sells “products with a purpose.” The company picks up one pound of trash for every item sold.

The organization hosts group cleanups, and it has formed a community of consumers and employees who share similar values. Keep Nature Wild has found a way to give back while reinforcing its image as an environmentally friendly company.

Once you establish your key philanthropic values, it won’t just influence your customers— it will change how you hire, engage and retain employees. As your corporate social responsibility programs become known, it will help you attract candidates who share your values.

With websites such as Glassdoor offering an insider’s view of your company and review sites publicly calling brands out for bad actions, it’s crucial to treat employees charitably, too. Your philanthropic spirit should start in-house and emanate from there.

Don’t try too much

A connection with a charity or a certain set of beliefs needn’t be complicated. Keeping things simple can help build trust and get your internal team on the same page, pushing toward the same goals. If you try to do or support too many things, you’ll never get much internal cohesion, traction or momentum.

A 2017 study revealed that 43% of Americans find brands and companies are less truthful than they were 20 years ago. Businesses can no longer just say that they have philanthropic values and ambitions. Corporations must demonstrate the authenticity of their culture—internally and externally. Otherwise, consumers will rightfully be skeptical of everything you do or say.

So, do good, and do it often. Just make sure you’re doing so for the right reasons.

Manish Dudharejia is president of E2M Solutions. A version of this post first appeared on TLNT.

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