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Strategic Philanthropy: Beyond the Checkbook

3p Contributor | Friday February 25th, 2011 | 1 Comment

By The Sequoia Lab Team

Save a Tree! Save a Whale! Save your breath.   Today’s consumer is too socially savvy to be impressed by companies who simply write a check to a cause whose mission has no affiliation with their brand’s position or offset to their impact on society. Consumers want companies to make thoughtful choices in determining where their donations are directed and furthermore, they want to have a say in the matter.  Does your company’s philanthropic giving align with your overall strategic goals?

Strategic Philanthropy is a powerful way to connect with your customers and your community and to create a positive association with your brand in a relevant way.   A recent Harvard Business Review article spotlighting smart philanthropy highlighted Nike, Intel, and Goldman Sachs for their integrated and large-scale approaches to corporate philanthropy – each of which were different from each other but relevant to their respective organization’s mission.

Nike’s Girl Effect stems from their core belief in the power of human potential; Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women and 10,000 small business programs provide training and funding to individuals around the world in depressed economies to start and maintain small businesses; and the Intel Teach program serves to measure Intel’s success in training 8 million teachers in 60 countries.

How can your organization make an impact on both your community and your bottom line using smart philanthropy?

Relevant Selections

A vital aspect to smart philanthropy lies in choosing which organizations to support based on the core strengths of your business or based on the industry you are in.  When a company in the electronic industry sponsors a service dog training center, it is certainly magnanimous but not relevant to the electronics industry. Furthermore, it doesn’t create a positive association with their product.  The most effective corporate philanthropy will strengthen your business and will support the community.

One example is Moody’s, the rating agency, who sponsors the annual “Moody’s Math Challenge” for high school students to prove their aptitude for quantitative analysis.  They award scholarships and internships for the school to put these skills to work.   The Moody’s Foundation wants students to study math and economics so that they can work in financial services and that is exactly what their contest promotes.    How does the destination for your donations align with your company’s purposes?

Board Placement

Making contributions to relevant organizations sets the tone for smart philanthropy but you can take it a step further by engaging with those as members of the board.  According to a recent Fast Company article, if you aren’t, you are “missing out on a number of valuable opportunities, including: government and community relations, economic development, leadership development, and effective stewardship of your costly grant-making.” Serving on a non-profit board also allows your executives to be trained on being effective board members and potential board leaders.  The idea is an all around win for you, the non-profit, and the community.

Engaging Your Customer

You’ve heard the old adage: two heads are better than one? Well imagine what could be done if you had access to all of your customers’ heads.  Many companies originally engage in corporate philanthropy for the purpose of creating goodwill with customers.  These days it is about engaging your customers.

This goes beyond inviting them to participate in a community service project.  Companies like Global Giving can help with crowdsourcing tools that help connect companies with donors in need.  Beth Kanter of the Huffington Post identified crowdsourcing as “creating collective knowledge or wisdom, crowd creation, crowd voting, and crowd funding.” Crowdsourcing is an opportunity for you to bring your customer to the table and find out what they think is the most relevant way for you to give back.  Have you opened the dialogue with you customers about corporate philanthropy?

These are only three ways that companies can improve their impact through corporate philanthropy.  The more innovative you get and the more customized you can make a program, the more likely you are to be successful at executing that program.  International Philanthropy Day is February 28, 2011 led by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP). How will you, your company, and your customers celebrate?

Emily Cangie contributed to this article.

Sequoia Lab is a boutique consulting firm powered by the strength and reach of the Sequoia tree. We partner with companies to create innovative, profitable, and sustainable business models.


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  • http://www.liveensure.com Ross Macdonald

    I am finding it frustrating to give away our product to charities / non-profits etc for free. There is a need in the market for online security and charities are vulnerable to being hacked. What is that makes organisations hesitant to take products/services ( as opposed to cash ) ? Is it lack of resource, cynicism, suspicion etc ? If anyone has ideas on reaching out to those in need for this and similar products please let me know ( ross@liveensure.com)