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Darryl Siry Dispels the Dichotomies of For-Profit Philanthropy

| Friday February 20th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Darryl Siry is a clean tech advisor, change strategist, and conscious entrepreneur who is passionate about the environment and committed to social good. Currently a senior analyst for Peppercom, a strategic communications firm, he has successfully developed and implemented philanthropic programs that continue to thrive today. He was recently CMO for Tesla Motors, the electric car company, and prior to that was CMO for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. Darryl blogs at www.darrylsiry.com and can be reached at djsiry@gmail.com.


How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
In the case of corporate philanthropy, there is often a false dichotomy between profit motive and philanthropic endeavors. I believe that the best results come when the corporation’s philanthropic programs are completely aligned with their business strategy and profit motive. If a corporation can see the specific impact of their philanthropy on their bottom line, that corporation is more likely to apply significant resources to their philanthropic program. If the philanthropic programs are only loosely tied to the business strategy, or completely disconnected, then the philanthropy is perpetually at risk of being marginalized or eliminated, especially in tough times.
This may seem obvious, but it is rarely done right. A common refrain in corporate philanthropy circles is “the CEO and board really need to champion the corporate giving program.” But what is missed is the fact that it isn’t just about them being good or caring people – they have a fiduciary duty to the shareholder. If you run a corporate giving department, you should be striving to create a situation where your programs are key to the business success, and that the impact is obvious and measurable.
Last I checked, only 10% of charity came from corporations. Corporations that take this strategic philanthropy approach will ultimately give more to charity because it helps build shareholder value. Ultimately, everyone gains from this.
Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
Back when I was CMO of Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, I launched a strategic philanthropy and branding program called “Fireman’s Fund Heritage.” The name of the program was based on the fact that the company had originally been founded 140 years ago to provide a portion of its profits to the local fire departments. In reviving this mission, we offered grants for equipment and programs to fire departments in the communities we served, which both helped them protect the properties we insured, and also created a strong sense of trust and customer loyalty among the company’s employees, agents, and customers. The program was shown empirically to have a positive impact in customer loyalty, employee morale, and sales. This easily justified the millions of dollars in grants that were given each year, which were tied the amount of business generated by local agents.
How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
The program was heavily oriented around customer communications and employee engagement. To a certain extent, we also regarded our independent agents as “customers.” The most important message in the communication was explaining and demonstrating how the grants that were going to fire departments were actually resulting in improved protection in their community and lives saved. By showing the natural connection of the money given in grants and the reduction in property losses and lives, we educated customers as to why this type of corporate giving was appropriate and did not amount to higher prices for their insurance policies. It also gave them a sense of pride and connected them to their community in a way that no other insurance provider could offer.
Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
I don’t think it is necessarily important for every company to engage in philanthropy. If they do so, however, I think it is critical that the CSR programs be closely tied to revenue (or drivers of revenue, like customer loyalty or referral.) By doing this, you have a “virtuous circle” that reinforces itself and sustains itself, benefitting both the business and the community.
That being said, in today’s environment of transparency and easy access to information, customers do want to know more about the companies that they choose to do business with, so good corporate practices are just good business. I would caution, however, against establishing a corporate giving program that is just window dressing or is totally disconnected to your raison d’√™tre as a company, because your customers will see through it very easily.
What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
Aside from what I mentioned above about the philanthropy program being absolutely tied to your business strategy, the biggest learning I had at Fireman’s Fund was that it is critical to get your employees involved to the maximum extent possible. The power of the grassroots involvement of your employees in your corporate philanthropy creates a powerful connection between company and employee and also fosters teamwork and community among your employees.
Name: Darryl Siry
Title: Senior Analyst
Company: Peppercom
Website: http://www.darrylsiry.com
Contact: djsiry@peppercom.com


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