As we inch toward the end of the year, many businesses start to consider giving back around the holidays. However, there’s more to doing good than just doing it – you have to do good right.
Rules of Etiquette
Many of the world’s religions and, for that matter, the rules of etiquette, suggest that the most righteous form of giving is done quietly and, in the case of money, anonymously. In its purest form, it’s not done for public praise or recognition, although charity has increasingly become a public affair.
Spreading the Word
Look at many businesses’ websites and you’ll see they share details of their “do good” acts. And there’s evidence that doing good pays off: According to a May 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82 percent of U.S. consumers consider corporate social responsibility when deciding which products or services to buy and where to shop. In fact, in some instances, consumers are even willing to pay more for products. In Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66 percent of 30,000 global consumers surveyed said they were willing to pay extra for products that come from companies that commit to positive social and environmental impact.
There are other benefits to doing good, too. The very act of a company committing to a worthy cause in a public way lends credibility to the cause and may inspire others to do the same. Moreover, social action initiatives adopted by companies that involve their employees can invigorate a company’s culture.
Whose Cause Is It?
Choosing the wrong project or “cause” in a corporate environment can have unintended consequences.
There’s an old adage that says you should never talk about politics or religion in polite company. The reason for this is that the topics are closely tied to thoughts and beliefs that are emotionally charged and tend to be divergent amongst a cross-section of the population.
When selecting your company’s social action project, the same rule applies. For example, asking your employees to participate in a community park beautification project is more appropriate than a beautification project at a house of worship.
In short, assume nothing about where your employees worship (if they do), how they vote, the composition of their family or friends, or what they believe. And, of course, the same holds true for your customers. If you plan to tout your good acts as part of a cause marketing campaign, make sure your project respects the diversity of the community you serve.
Examine Your Charity
Consider doing a little due diligence on your charity or cause, too. Scratch the surface and you may find that your chosen cause or charity has taken a political stand that’s inconsistent with the values you want to promote in your business, or has been intolerant of the very people that make your company great. Also, if you’re collecting or donating funds, make sure to align yourself with organizations that are good stewards of donated funds. Find out how your selected organization spends their money. Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) is a valuable tool that rates charities based on their financial performance (the percent of total expenses spent on programs and services they deliver), along with accountability and transparency metrics.
When choosing a volunteer project or cause, another option is to let your employees brainstorm and come up with a selection. By setting the parameters discussed here, with an eye toward inclusiveness, you’re likely to enjoy greater buy-in and more robust participation without the risk of alienating employees, especially the ones who aren’t comfortable speaking up. Remember, your “cause” may not be their cause. The goal here is to make a commitment to something meaningful as a group.
On the Clock
Apart from the not-so-subtle pressure an employee might feel to participate in your cause, there’s another issue to consider: will the activity take place while the employee is being paid by you?
Often, giving back activities are scheduled on the weekend. This makes sense for businesses that do not have the luxury of closing during the traditional work week. However, by doing this, you’re asking your employees to subsidize your business-related event with their free time. If the goal is to promote and support a corporate social responsibility project, and you’re doing this under the banner of your business, then the truest expression of that commitment is to pay for your employees’ time.
There are several ways to approach this. Plan far in advance and close your business for the day. Consider inviting your vendors, insurance partners and customers to join you and your employees. Yes, it’s a big commitment, but it’s also an opportunity to bring people together outside of a business setting in a meaningful way.
You could also divide your employees into two or more groups over more than one day so you can still operate your business, albeit with fewer people, while still participating in your project.
Finally, should you plan for the weekend, make the activity optional, but tell your employees you will pay for their time if they choose to participate. Use it as a teachable moment. This is something you as a business owner believe is an important part of your corporate culture and social responsibility. A thoughtfully chosen project and your generosity may even inspire your employees to engage in acts of giving back on their own time.