There are many terms out there when it comes to community involvement programs and it can be very confusing, especially if you’re just starting out and want to explore the different ways you and your company can help make a difference in the world. There’s a lot of talk about charitable giving (also known as corporate philanthropy) and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Now, I’ve seen them used interchangeably, and I’ve seen them described as completely different animals. The truth is, they are not exclusive of each other, but they are a little bit different.
Charitable giving encompasses donations or grants made to a nonprofit organization. If you’ve ever made a donation to fund cancer research, for instance, this is a form of charitable giving. Corporate social responsibility, on the other hand, can include philanthropy, but these programs have other functions, too. A company might design a CSR program, for instance, to improve the well-being of its employees, the environment, and the community around it.
A company with a CSR program might partner with a nonprofit to keep at-risk teens in school by enrolling them in training and educational programs. Maybe a company gives young adults in underserved communities internships to learn marketable skills. Perhaps employees volunteer their time and talent to help a local nonprofit. It’s not uncommon for a company with a CSR program to reduce its carbon footprint by making changes like installing solar panels or energy efficient lighting, or doing away with Styrofoam in its packaging. All of these are examples of CSR. The important thing to remember is that your company’s program doesn’t need to be one or the other to be successful. The bottom line here is that there is no wrong way to give. Doing something beats doing nothing, every time.
Now, as great as all this sounds, what many find is that getting started is half the battle. Plenty of people want to do good in their companies and communities, and lots of those people have fantastic ideas. But putting ideas into action can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start, and it can be especially discouraging to be told it can’t be done, it shouldn’t be done, or that it has to be done a certain way in order for it to be “right”. There are some oft-repeated myths around workplace giving programs and CSR, and plenty of people actually buy into them, which is a shame, to say the least. Imagine how many HR and business leaders out there are letting a little thing like a myth stop them from catalyzing change. Maybe you’re one of them! Below I list (and debunk) the most common of these:
Myth #1: CSR is a “nice to have,” but it’s not a “need to have” because it doesn’t impact a company’s core strategy execution.
Reality: In fact, CSR is an essential driver of employee engagement. According to a study conducted by America’s Charities, sixty-eight percent of employers said that their employees expect them to provide:
- an effective workplace giving program
- the ability to volunteer during work hours
- opportunities to engage skills-based volunteering
- matching gifts for employee contributions to nonprofits
Myth #2: There’s no tangible return on investment (ROI) associated with workplace giving and/or CSR programs.
Reality: Corporate giving plays a critical role in how your company is perceived by all of your stakeholders, which without a doubt impacts your ROI. For one thing, your employees are your company’s biggest ambassadors. Through volunteerism they help raise the visibility of your brand and also strengthen your reputation as a good corporate citizen. Your employees are your corporate culture in action. No marketing campaign on the planet can compare with that kind of PR.
Myth #3: You need to invest a lot of money in a workplace giving program to do it right.
Reality: Perhaps the biggest myth I’ve heard about starting a workplace giving program, and the one that I hear most often, is that you have to make a significant dollar investment to launch a program. The reality is that many events, such as clothing and food drives, cost your company nothing, engage your employees, and still benefit nonprofits and the people they serve. Organizing a volunteer effort is also a no or low-cost activity.
So to re-cap: There is no wrong way to give, employees expect corporations and employers to do good, and doing something beats doing nothing every time.
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Alessandra Cavalluzzi is the author of A MILLION DOLLARS IN CHANGE: How to Engage Your Employees, Attract Top Talent, and Make the World a Better Place (Wise Ink, Spring 2018).