Aligning Philanthropy with Business and Brand Strategy

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No corporate web presence would be complete without a section devoted to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The world, of course, has no shortage of challenges. Happily, there are corporate eleemosynary outlets of almost infinite variety ranging from the currently fashionable like sustainability to the consistently intractable like disease and poverty. Often CSR simply involves giving money to a chosen cause as a result of the personal preferences of the person (or committee) in charge of making the decision with little thought as to whether the recipient of the largess has any meaningful connection with the business of the company. Too often companies frame CSR initiatives as ancillary to their core businesses and serve as a necessary cost of doing business to bolster their brands.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. Michael Porter’s Harvard Business Review article on shared value argues against reputation-focused CSR programs and instead details the outsized impact programs that deliberately align cause with commonly held corporate values have on customers, employees, society and shareholders alike. One way firms have responded Porter’s assertion has been to make in-kind donations, whereby the company gives goods, time or services where the unique capabilities of the organization yield even greater impact than cash. Here’s an example of such a simple in-kind donations that struck us as a pitch-perfect example of aligning corporate capability with unmet need:

Building Design Partnership (BDP) is a UK-headquartered architectural colossus, designing and building and illuminating some of the most innovative developments coming out of the ground across the globe. The firm recently contributed three lighting installations to Maggie’s Culture Crawl that will take place next month on September 20th. The Culture Crawl is a 15 mile walk through some of London’s cultural and architectural hot spots to raise funds for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centers to fuel their work offering emotional, practical and social support for UK cancer patients and their loved ones.

Now some will argue that donating lighting for an event is not as efficient as donating a chunk of cash, say so a Maggie’s center can keep the lights on. But this donation in kind will enable BDP’s employees to experience the reactions to their talent and art from the people participating in the walk, all of whom are touched in some way by the disease. Employees who give in-kind donations also get a sense that what the company is doing on a day-to-day basis matters beyond simple transactional exchange for the benefit of larger society, and can see how their job contributes to a “greater good”. Customers and future employees tangibly understand that the BDP doesn’t just say it is good—it does good works and it deploys its business prowess to serve noble ends. And let’s not forget the Millennials who insist on meaning in their jobs, not just money. Young architects starting their careers will put a company like BDP on their radar of potential future employees over firms whose sole aim is to design for paying clients. The community at large benefits too by participating in a culturally enriching experience relevant to the underlying architecture business of BDP while supporting an emotionally taxed subset of its population.

Money is and will remain the universal solvent of philanthropy, and no fundraiser fails to light up when reading the words ‘unrestricted gift.’ But when summarily dispensed, money distances philanthropy—and the companies that fund it—from the impact of the donation. Unlike money, time cannot be regenerated. Charitable giving in the form of individual and organizational core competencies include both a time and frequently an element of unique expertise, maximizing the meaningfulness and impact of donations for all involved.

Ready for ‘exclusive access to wonderful buildings such as The EDF Energy London Eye, the Gherkin and the Foreign Office?’ If so, why not step up and step out with BDP and Maggie’s Culture Crawl 2013.

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