A corporate philanthropy skeptic reconsiders

I have to admit that I am generally skeptical about the value of pursuing corporate dollars, since corporations give such a tiny amount of overall philanthropy in this country.  In 2013, corporate giving was only five percent of total giving, according to Giving USA. However, I am an eternal optimist.  When I hear folks like Bob Speltz, director of public affairs for The Standard, speak about the competitive advantage that philanthropic giving can offer businesses, I start to get excited. I am more excited to hear companies talk about how philanthropy improves their bottom line than simply that it's "the right thing to do."  Why?  Because in general, the bottom line drives corporate America much more than doing the right thing.

In addition to being involved in a ton of awesome causes around Portland, Bob is a fantastic cheerleader for the benefits of philanthropy, which is why the folks at Portland Opera invited him to speak to a group of business folks about how giving back could benefit them.

Shout out and thanks to the Portland Opera for hosting a lovely breakfast.  And kudos on the savvy strategy: top a meaningful talk on corporate philanthropy with some exciting teasers for the Opera's 50th anniversary, and then invite a fabulous mezzo-soprano to sing to seal the deal. Well played, Opera development team!

So, what did Bob have to say that got me excited?  He divided the benefits of corporate philanthropy into external and internal:

External Benefits for Corporations

  • Competitive Advantage: Consumers want to spend their money with companies that they perceive to be aligned with their values.
  • Public Relations/Brand Image: See above.
  • Hiring: Millennials want to work at companies with social responsibility cred.
  • Community: Making our communities better is a good in and of itself.  (Doing the right thing.)
  • Workforce Development: Business needs talented employees  to thrive.  Nonprofits play a crucial role in creating educated, healthy, happy citizens.
  • Relationships: It's all about who you know, and when companies seek to advocate for themselves regarding legal or regulatory issues, knowing government and community leaders is essential.  Philanthropic and civic involvement is a great way to meet these folks.

But it doesn't stop there!  Bob also pointed to key improvements in the workplace as a result of company-led community involvement.

Internal Benefits for Corporations

  • Morale: Engaging employees in giving and volunteering leads to a more engaged workforce, improving morale.  This leads to lower turnover and reduced absenteeism.
  • Team BondingVolunteer opportunities may find c-suite execs rubbing elbows with entry-level employees.  This informal relationship-building can be powerful.
  • Retention: Millennials are notorious job-hoppers.  If they find that their values don't align with the workplace, then they are outta there.
  • Access to New Ideas: Partnering with research-focused nonprofits like universities gives companies access to new ideas and a ready pool of talent.

So what can companies do?

Bob recommends a starting point: paid time off to volunteer.  The Standard offers 8 hours/year.  Umpqua Bank offers up to 40 hours/year, and AirBnB offers 8 hours/month!  Bob thinks that 8 hours/month will become the best practice for recruiting and retaining Millennials.

For Portland-area people, Bob recommends the Grantmakers of Oregon and Southwest Washington and the Corporate Volunteer Council as great starting places to meet other businesses involved in philanthropy and volunteering.

Amanda JarmanComment