You know you’ve done it. And more than once you’ve wondered why.
It started with the kid who had his hand out “because the Little League team needs money for uniforms.” Before you knew it, you had given him $50 of company money and sent him on his merry way. You felt good about helping the community. And the community . . . well, the community had no clue you ever helped at all.
It’s hard to resist the heartfelt pleas that flood your way, especially when so many seem worthwhile. Nobody wants to be labeled an ogre, so you donate hard-earned company dollars even though you’re not sure how the donation could benefit your business.
While philanthropy is one of the best ways to build a strong public image, donations that never get noticed are simply tax deductions at the end of the year.
Giving So It Does You Good
While it may seem almost crass to place philanthropy in the same block as public relations, savvy businesspeople do it all the time. You can have the best of both worlds. All it takes is a bit of strategy instead of emotional reaction.
Emotions often become entangled with philanthropy because of all the needs in our society. But ask yourself this crucial question before you whip out the company checkbook: Why am I participating in this?
Many business owners believe they should donate because it’s their “job to help less fortunate members of the community.” That’s not a business reason! That’s an emotional reason. And emotional reaessa are better supported by personal donations, not business donations.
Here’s a business reason to support a battered women’s shelter: “My company sells women’s self-help books. If I can help those women get back on their feet, then they will potentially buy my books. They may remember my support back in their more difficult times.”
Business reasoning establishes a clear plan for the philanthropy to come full circle back to your business. In other words, you find legitimate business-related reasons to contribute to particular causes.
Large corporations often establish an application that charities must fill out in order to be considered for philanthropy. They require these forms because the requests they receive are not only heart-wrenching but numerous. Applications help a business determine whether the charity is a good fit for its philanthropic program by showing whether the charity impacts the business’s target market and can further business goals. Any size business can create and benefit from such an application.
While some will try to convince you that philanthropy should be selfless, there is no law that says philanthropy can’t be mutually beneficial to both giver and recipient. And this approach doesn’t stop your company from donating to any organization you’d like, as long as you can find a way for that organization to meet your business needs. If the organization can, it’s eligible for your support. It’s that simple. Really.
Here are four tips to help you forge a philanthropic plan:
1. Know your charity.
If you don’t, you won’t be able to determine how it will fit with your public relations strategies. Ask questions if the charity is new to you; don’t be afraid to ask for written literature and a copy of the organization’s most recent annual report. Talk to the Executive Director and with other businesses that have contributed to the organization.
2. Never respond to pressure.
Don’t be pressured into contributing on the spot. Remember, all your philanthropy should be strategic. Instant decisions are not likely to be well thought out; they’ll stem from emotion rather than business strategy.
3. Always have a business reason.
If you can’t stretch your giving into a business reason, why is your business participating?
4. Consider giving generously.
Once you’ve determined that an organization fits with your strategy, don’t be stingy. Do what you can–offer in-kind donations, sponsor events, etc.–to keep that public relations buzz going about your business.
Lose the soft touch and you’ll find that business may improve as a result.
S.E. Slack is a member of the Publisher’s Marketing Association and the author of “A Public Relations Survival Kit,” Grendel Press, 2002, which can be purchased at www.grendelpress.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.