True philanthropy isn't a public relations tactic; it’s a genuine expression of contributing to a cause.
Centennials — the generation following millennials — place heavy importance on philanthropy when choosing what businesses to support. The centennial generation will soon make up the majority of consumers, and their preferences can’t be ignored.
If you’re involved in corporate philanthropy but aren’t seeing a boost in sales, here are some suggestions:
1. Be honest about your intentions.
If your main motivation is to look good, your philanthropic efforts won’t yield long-term results. People know when philanthropic efforts aren’t genuine. Hold off on any activities that are self-serving.
2. Are you spending more money advertising your philanthropy?
Consumers see a red flag when a company spends large amounts of money to solicit donations or to announce their contribution to a cause. From the consumer’s perspective, spending $30,000 on a television ad to announce your $10,000 donation to charity doesn’t make sense. Even if that $30,000 expense will yield a 200 percent return, conscious consumers see your $30,000 as a wasted resource.
3. Philanthropic efforts should relate to your business goals.
In 1970, New York Times Magazine published an article by an economist named Milton Friedman who claimed “the only social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits.” Milton wrote in his book "Capitalism and Freedom," “The corporation is an instrument of the stockholders who own it. If the corporation makes a contribution, it prevents the individual stockholder from himself deciding how he should dispose of his funds. If charitable contributions are to be made, they should be made by individual stockholders — or, by extension, individual employees — and not by the corporation.”
Suspend your agreement or disagreement with Milton’s statement for a moment. The way most corporations practice philanthropy today consists of disjointed programs that collect a little cash here and there, providing minimal aid to causes and national charities in an attempt to gain the respect of their community. Contributions aren’t usually connected to the values or goals of the business. They’re reflections of the personal beliefs held by company executives.
Consider your philanthropic efforts. Are they tied to your personal or business values? Your contribution doesn’t need to be gigantic; small-scale efforts can make a big impact.
For instance, Filter Buy is a family-owned and operated business committed to improving indoor air quality, and it runs a scholarship contest for college students once per semester. Students are asked to write an essay that provides tips to reduce individual greenhouse gas emissions. The grand prize is $500, which may not seem like much, but for college students it’s significant.
Remember that genuine philanthropy will strengthen your brand image authentically, make a real difference for others, and provide incentive for people to do business with you. For example, you may have a local food cooperative in your area with high prices, yet people prefer to shop there because they support local farmers. Employees are often volunteers from the top down, and despite the lack of profit, many cooperatives are continually engaging in philanthropy.
4. Get involved personally.
People love to see businesses get involved with causes personally, not just writing checks. Anyone can write a check to donate money; it takes true passion to donate your time and presence.
5. Incorporate your values into daily operations.
Are the causes your company support being honored in its daily operations? For instance, if you support cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you should discontinue using plastic trash bags in the office. You may want to ban plastic soda and water bottles as well. If you’re going to support a cause in public, you should support it behind closed doors, too.
Larry Alton is a freelance writer, whose work regularly appears in Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Inc. and Adweek.
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