Business often gets a bad press when it comes to the social impact of their operations, but in fact, charitable and philanthropic work has always been bound up with the business world. And not only is philanthropy an important aspect of the that world, it also makes a lot of sense from an economic, personnel and reputational standpoint.
Companies are organizations that include a diverse range of people, from different backgrounds and with different skill sets and experiences. That means that most companies have a lot more to offer society than simply their products or services. What they are able to contribute will depend on their size and nature. Some organizations are in an ideal position to be able to publicize and promote worthwhile causes. Others have the financial muscle to provide a significant boost to an important project or to fund a charitable campaign. Some companies make the commitment to match employees’ charitable donations across a wide range of sectors, while many are able to use the expertise and experience of their employees to make a philanthropic contribution.
There are numerous examples of successful business people and entrepreneurs using their resources to help improve the lot of others, from the philanthropic activities of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to the Charles Phillips charity that carries out vital charitable work.
Engaging with the wider community through philanthropy is also a good way for companies to further connect their employees with the organization, which ultimately can produce a more effective workforce, with higher morale and a deeper commitment to the company’s goals.
This take on philanthropy goes beyond the approach of making donations or offering financial support and seeks to find ways for a company’s employees to use their skills to assist with valuable philanthropic projects. This can produce considerable benefits in terms of engagement and satisfaction among members of staff. In fact, research conducted by the Great Place To Work organization has found that employees who had experienced a positive example of being involved in philanthropic work were up to four times more likely to say that they would be prepared to work harder to get a task done, and are more likely to be happy to act as brand ambassadors for that company.
The extent to which individual companies commit to philanthropy varies widely. Some companies go to the lengths of sending their employees on internships with voluntary organizations, enabling them to form strong links with charities and other groups, and to provide a philanthropic bridge between their business and the charitable sector that can benefit both sides.
Another approach that can reap dividends in terms of staff morale is giving employees a say in a company’s philanthropic activities. By empowering people to get involved in decisions that are traditionally made at a high level, businesses can boost and strengthen the commitment of their employees, while ensuring that their organization’s charitable work remains focused on relevant areas. Such employee-involvement is also likely to lead to more enthusiasm within a workforce for taking on voluntary and philanthropic work.
Companies can often be most effective in the philanthropic field when they can deliver their employees’ core skills for charitable purposes. For example, it is common practice for large law firms to take on a certain percentage of pro bono work each year, enabling them to provide philanthropy that has a direct and positive impact on the community.
An equally important trend among many US companies is the increasing use of dedicated voluntary time off; a number of days away from the workplace each year for every employee, which are dedicated to philanthropy or voluntary work. By giving employees the space to join in charitable activities and make a contribution to community projects, businesses are enabling staff to develop a wider range of skills, including problem solving and leadership attributes, which can be of enormous benefit in the long term, not just to the individual employee, but to the business as a whole.
The benefits of philanthropy are many and can have a profoundly positive effect on a business, its employees and on the local community. And every company that involves itself in philanthropic work also helps to improve the reputation of their sector and of business as a whole. In a modern world that is increasingly conscious of the social and environmental impact of business, the ability to find new ways to engage with good causes and charitable projects will be essential to the profitability and the sustainability of many companies across a wide range of sectors.