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Strategic Philanthropy Can Help Your Business Grow

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by Kara Baskin

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When your business is successful, you want to be known as generous and charitable. It’s important to your vision, your mission, and your visibility—but what charity to choose? It's not all about altruism; it's also about boosting your brand. You don’t have to pledge billions like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates to raise your profile and make a difference.

“In the U.S., companies give only 5 percent of all philanthropic dollars. Even with this relatively small share of the pie, corporate gifts can be a kind of imprimatur that signals legitimacy and worthiness to other donors,” says Katherine Smith, executive director of Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship. 

Before making a choice, ask yourself why you’re qualified to support a potential organization. “How is our company uniquely positioned to support the mission of your partner? Are you going to be one of many offering the same type and level of support or can you offer something unique? Answering these questions is an important first step to making sure your corporate giving will yield the greatest possible social and business value for your firm—and your philanthropic partners,” Smith says.

Firms that direct their corporate giving programs to issues that have a logical connection to their business strategy are viewed as more credible by stakeholders.

Katherine Smith, Executive Director, Center for Corporate Citizenship

Choose Carefully Firms that direct their corporate giving programs to issues that have a logical connection to their business strategy are viewed as more credible by stakeholders, says Smith. This kind of connection can come from a clear market opportunity, from your employees’ interests, or from a disaster or other event that affects people or places that hit home for your business, she says. For example, Campbell’s Soup Foundation devotes their charitable efforts to community organizations in their hometown of Camden, New Jersey.

Then Go Long After pinpointing a charity, prepare for the long haul—longevity matters to your reputation. “The other factor here is that consumers and others tend to have more favorable feelings about corporate giving programs that support charities for longer periods, and companies will naturally support programs that have a strategic connection to their business for longer durations,” Smith says.

Consider Giving More Than Cash If you’re ready to make that commitment, think about how much you can give, and how to deliver it. “In addition to cash, your company might contribute experience, expertise and knowledge, or products to address an environmental or social issue,” Smith says. Having a specific goal makes it easier to concentrate on achievable outcomes—and to measure your progress along the way.