The Role of Philanthropy in Recruitment: Working for a Corporation with a Heart

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Team from Chevron participates in a bike ride to raise money for MS research

By Aman Singh

Any executive in her right mind will tell you that she – and the entire company – are committed to working with their nongovernmental partners to support whatever cause they represent. And when said cause is directly linked to the company’s bottom line, for example IKEA’s work with UNICEF where the sale of soft toys is directly connected to the size of the donation, the partnerships are especially robust.

But how much do these efforts matter to the average employee? Outside the doors of the Foundation director’s office, who really cares?

The Believers

The most committed group is that of first responders: They have experienced a close brush with the problem the company is trying to solve. For example, if an employee has a relative who fought breast cancer, walking for that cause holds special commitment. The same is true for employees with personal connections to diabetes, AIDS, natural disasters as well as environmental hazards.

These employees are among the first to volunteer time, skills and labor.

The Socialists

Then there are the second responders who believe in the cause. They want to make a difference, care for the community and are social beings who enjoy group activities.

The Non-Believers

Finally, there are the nonbelievers. They simply want to go to an office, do their job and be done with it. They might privately donate money or choose to volunteer with their children’s schools, etc. but not so much professionally.

This leaves us with one large overarching question: Does a company’s philanthropic efforts matter to a prospective candidate?

Of course, several studies have shown that many sections of the workforce would be willing to take a pay cut if that meant working for a socially responsible brand. And this percentage, a Burson Marstellar survey from 2010 notes, increases with the younger generations. The confusion arises when we are asked to define what it means to be socially responsible. Which company has a better reputation, the one that donates millions to development in Africa or the one that takes great care of its employees and enjoys high retention rates?

Depending on whom you speak to, chances are the answer will differ. For the longest time I have believed firmly that philanthropy is not CSR. Instead, a company’s value system, mission and strategic priorities lead to the making of a responsible — or irresponsible — corporate citizen.

Which brings me back to the question: Does a corporation’s generosity play into a candidate’s decision to work there?

The easiest answer to that question, then, is no.

At the core, a prospective candidate wants a combination of priorities to be fulfilled at work: Constant learning, leadership opportunities, fair compensation, and schedule flexibility (especially for those with children). Generosity? That’s not so much a top tier, or even a second tier, criteria. I believe that philanthropy becomes key once a candidate has come on board and begins to assimilate in the culture.

The Pepsi Refresh Project

For those getting ready to attack me in the comments section, let me clarify. Employees care about their employer’s philanthropic efforts – some even cherish them. Ask any PepsiCo employee and you will see the profound impact the Refresh project has had on the company’s internal culture. As Chief Personnel Officer Cynthia Trudell told me in a recent interview, “I’ve never seen anything stick as fast as this did across the company. And it really helped us through the tough times, especially the recent economic recession. It’s helped everyone remember that they serve a bigger mission and [they are] able to think of the future in a positive way.”

Has this ambitious project helped PepsiCo recruit top talent? Absolutely, according to Trivella, who went on to discuss how CEO Indra Nooyi’s commitment to Performance with Purpose has had a defining impact on the company’s culture.

This is where the overarching premise of CSR fits well.

Because with great power comes greater responsibility. How you choose to exercise that power is an open-ended answer that every company will have to answer for itself. For a cola company, responsibility lay in blending traditional marketing with cause-oriented philanthropy spurred by consumers and employees. What does responsibility mean to your corporation?

Connect with me @AmanSinghCSR or drop me a note at my blog: Singh on CSR.

Aman Singh is a CSR journalist, communications strategist and a social media advisor. When she isn’t reporting for and CSRwire, Singh works with entrepreneurs and companies on defining their corporate social responsibility strategy and how to best communicate their commitment to a diverse set of internal and external audiences.  

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2 responses

  1. Hi Aman,

    I don’t know that a company’s generosity or its philanthropic expression would be a primary recruitment consideration. Although for those individuals who demonstrate ‘emotional connectivity’ to a role or function within an organization, the company’s philanthropy could be an important retention factor if it were effectively translated into the company’s core values and through their expression.


    1. I think a company’s genorosity and philanthropic efforts are a huge part of recruitment, especially for Generation Y. Social norms are changing, and being environmentally and socially responsible is becomng embedded in the hearts and minds of the future work force every day. I believe the future success of any company’s overall growth and success lies in the health of their core values, vision, and mission. Regardless of their entity (for profit, nonprofit, etc.) if these three factors do not support humanity and the enviroment, the lack will catch up with them eventually. As foundation Executive Dir. in Cali, Colombia quotes, “One cannot have a health company, if the inhabitants surrounding that company are unhealthy; properity is stalled.”

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