By Katherine Pickus, divisional VP of Global Citizenship and Policy, Abbott
Traditionally, the holiday season is a strong time for philanthropic giving. But a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive indicated that the number of Americans who will refrain from making charitable donations has doubled since last year.
Likewise, many companies are looking for ways to stretch the value of their giving by doing more with less. Despite this challenging environment, unparalleled opportunities exist for the private sector to give in more innovative ways – not just during the holidays but throughout the year. Companies can leverage alternative resources and find fresh ways to give by mobilizing a company’s core assets – its people and products – and by aligning giving with its business. Taking this approach at Abbott, we have been able to significantly extend the impact of our giving by focusing on the following key areas:
1. Engage employees in “personal” corporate giving.
Make it easy, safe and flexible for employees to make donations. At Abbott, employees can use a secure online system that allows for one-time donations or ongoing paycheck deductions. They can personalize their giving by contributing to the non-profit of their choice, and any gift to one of Abbott’s long-time community partner organizations earns a company match. This has resulted in a strong employee giving response, despite the current economy. More than four-in-five Abbott employees (83%) participated in the company’s 2010 giving program — more than double the rate typically seen at other companies. This year, Abbott employees gave more than $13.3 million to nonprofits. This set new company records for both employee participation and dollar contributions.
2. Leverage employee expertise.
Working side-by-side with NGO partners, schools or community groups, employees can make a real impact in their local communities. But the best way to deliver the most value is to discover ways to leverage an employee’s unique expertise. Some of Abbott’s top scientists, for example, provide pro-bono consulting to the Drugs for Neglected Disease Institute to help find new treatments for malaria and other diseases. Across Tanzania, our expert diagnostics technicians help upgrade laboratories and mentor lab technicians at hospitals. Near our headquarters in north suburban Chicago, Abbott engineers rebuilt a local free health clinic. All of these efforts leverage employees’ unique skills and expertise, significantly expanding the value of Abbott’s philanthropy.
To get the most out of your company’s volunteer efforts, know what skills your employees can offer – conduct an employee survey; establish a team to identify key areas or leverage existing employee groups; or set up an online system to track it. And listen to your NGO or community partners – they can help determine what skills and types of volunteers would add the most value.
3. Forge strategic partnerships.
Companies can maximize their philanthropic impact through NGO or community partnerships that align with their core business. This allows the company to better maximize its products, services, people and funding, and to benefit from the expertise and perspective of an NGO partner to tackle shared challenges. As an illustration, Abbott has donated medical and nutritional products for many years to Feeding America and Direct Relief International, two organizations that serve as “first responders” when natural disasters strike communities. Working together, we looked for ways to empower local communities to respond better to disasters – which resulted in a novel approach: we pre-positioned critical Abbott products such as rehydration solutions and antibiotics in at-risk communities before disaster strikes. This approach has already proven successful, helping clinics in the U.S. to respond faster following hurricanes in the Gulf region.
Stretching the value of your corporate dollars to create greater impact is both a challenge and an opportunity. By engaging employees, leveraging resources and working together with strategic partners, we can all find new ways to meet critical community needs. What’s clear is that we must employ every available resource to maximize the benefits of our philanthropic efforts. Why? Because the need has never been greater.