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Corporate Philanthropy & Volunteering Blog

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Fast Stats About Giving in America Today


The annual Giving USA Foundation report has just been released, and the numbers tell an interesting story about corporate giving.  An alarming story, that is.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Americans gave $335.17 billion to charity in 2013.  Which sounds good until you read the fine print and understand that we’re barely keeping up as a percentage of the GDP.

  • Charitable contributions in the U.S. grew 4.4 percent in 2013 but still haven’t rebounded to peak levels achieved before the economic recession.

  • Individuals donated $240.6 billion to charities, up 4 percent from 2012.

  • At 72% of all giving, individual giving represents the largest portion and fastest growing area of giving.

  • The increase in individual giving is leading the charge to create a fourth straight year of growth in total giving.  

  • Of four sources of giving that were assessed - individuals, foundations, bequests and corporations - every kind of giving rose in 2013 except for corporate giving.

  • Corporate giving fell by nearly 2 percent, to $17.9 billion.

The drop in corporate giving is troubling for all parties involved.  Nonprofits lean heavily on corporations for giving, and when numbers are down they must scramble for alternative sources of funding.  And companies are playing with their own bottom lines when they skimp on corporate philanthropy.  Now more than ever, employees are paying close attention to the philanthropic behavior of corporations and evaluating them accordingly.

Employees Share Volunteering Stories

employees talking

According to the Corporate Leadership Council, employees with lower engagement levels are four times more likely to leave their jobs than those who are highly engaged.  But the importance of employee engagement isn't just increased employee retention; it's also about higher productivity.  One study by HR strategy firm Kenexa found that of 64 organizations studied, the organizations with highly engaged employees achieved twice the annual net income of organizations whose employees were less engaged.

One of the most powerful ways to engage employees is by helping them engage with the world.  Employee volunteer and giving programs have increasingly become the gift that keeps giving - to communities, employees and companies alike.  

And employees are noticing.  For example, check out these employee engagement quotes about the effect of corporate volunteer programs:

Letter to a CEO: The Surprising View in the Mirror

view in the mirror

Dear CEO:

Congratulations.  You’ve worked hard, built a business and can now enjoy the fruits of an impressive level of personal wealth.

In recent times, you’ve shifted your focus beyond the day to day grind of your core business.  Now you want to engage in a deeper level of corporate philanthropy.  Spread your wealth around, say thank you to the world for your good fortune, step back and figure out how you can really make a difference in the big picture of your local or global community.

Sure, you’ve always been generous when it comes to sponsoring charity fundraisers, snapping up items at the silent auction, throwing your company logo around town.  That sort of thing.  When nonprofits (or your alma mater) ask for money, you usually say yes.  

But now you’re ready to step up your game and really burnish your legacy.

So you’re taking things to the next level.  Starting with joining the board of your favorite nonprofit.  Bravo!  Board service is a gift that keeps giving, allowing you to lend your expertise, skills, and network of contacts to charities that are hungry for myriad areas of leadership.  It’s a critical asset to nonprofits and an invaluable source of personal and professional growth for you.  Not to mention an elegant way to raise your company’s profile in the community.

You’re fired up, boarded up, and now have a real stake in a charity that you’re helping to steer.  You understand the issues, have a vision for the future and are driven by a sense of urgency to bring new ideas to this cause.  Next stop: changing the world.

Fantastic!  But can we pause for a moment?  

Corporate Philanthropy Takes More Than Technology

dreamstime m 32619923

Sure, an odd headline coming from the CEO of a SAAS (software as a service) company that’s focused on
corporate philanthropy.  But let me explain why I’ve come to recognize the limits of my first love, technology.

In the beginning, it was a teenage crush.  I was a pimply nerd building mainframes and technology was my one true soulmate.

The love affair continued when I founded my first tech start-up, NetCreations, the originator of opt-in email marketing.  After I sold NetCreations, I set out to be a philanthropist.  

What did that mean, exactly?  Mostly writing checks.  

Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that one person bequeathing charities with checks is helpful... but limited.  No matter who you are, there’s only so much impact that a single individual can generate.  

I started to think about how I could leverage technology to better support nonprofits and give them what they need to address the world’s problems.  And I realized that corporations are in the best position to help charities realize their vision; not just because of the awesome collective financial power of companies (although there is that), but because they all have their own armies.  

A Fallen Hero's Legacy Endures Through Corporate Philanthropy

Stephen Robinson

The other day, I received the terrible news that Steve Robinson, a leading advocate for veterans and a friend of Causecast, had suddenly passed away.  He died at the age of 51, while working at his desk at Prudential, laboring to the very end to improve the lives of veterans.  

Steve’s work at Prudential was a remarkable example of just how creative and effective corporate philanthropy can be.  As Prudential’s Vice President of External Veterans Affairs, Steve was charged with strengthening and building relationships with military and veteran service organizations and related government agencies, all in the service of helping Prudential be a corporate champion for veterans.  In this capacity, Steve interfaced regularly with his peers in the Fortune 500 and the highest levels of government, including the White House, Congress, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor and the Veterans Administration.

It was a dream job for Steve, granting him the generous philanthropic resources of a company committed to backing his vision for supporting veterans, particularly in the area of employment and in helping returning veterans fully integrate back into society.  The role afforded Steve an ideal opportunity that he never imagined could exist in Corporate America.  

What was amazing is that so much of Steve’s work for Prudential didn’t directly benefit Prudential at all.  As I wrote about a couple of years ago when I interviewed Steve, one of his key responsibilities was to help Prudential develop best practices with regards to veterans employment issues and ensure that the company is a welcoming place for veterans transitioning to the workforce.  But his duties didn’t stop at Prudential’s door; he was also charged with sharing these best practices with other corporate leaders to widen the national support net for veterans.   

Using Corporate Philanthropy to Train Future Millennial Leaders

Millennials future

Recently, I was skimming an article about how company managers can prepare Millennials to take on leadership roles in business.  The piece addressed the looming explosion of Gen Y-ers in the workplace - they’re projected to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025 - and noted that this is a generation with an entrepreneurial bent, with an estimated 70% of young professionals around the world aspiring to be their own boss.  So what, the writer wondered, can business leaders do to make sure that that Millennials (anyone born between 1980 and 2000) are prepared to take the reins of their companies?

What caught my eye was the usual pattern that I notice with almost any article that tackles employee engagement, retention or training.  That is, every proposed solution could be at least partially addressed by leveraging corporate philanthropy.

Let’s review:

How Corporate Giving Helps Employees Succeed


I’ve been catching up on the work of renowned organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Wharton’s youngest full professor and single highest-rated teacher, Grant has been recognized as one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors, one of the world’s 40 best business professors under 40, and one of Malcolm Gladwell’s favorite social science writers.  And Grant’s life work has led him to the conclusion that giving is the secret to getting ahead, as a New York Times Magazine cover story about Grant put it.

Many of you might be aware of Grant’s 2013 bestselling book Give and Take, which was hard to miss last year.  It was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller that was also named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, Apple, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal.  Oprah named it one of her riveting reads, Fortune deemed it a must-read business book, Harvard Business Review considered it amongst the ideas that have shaped management, and The Washington Post named it a book that every leader should read.  

OK, so I’m a year behind the curve, but the book lives up to the hype.  It’s a fascinating - and important - read.

As an organizational psychologist, Grant has devoted himself to understanding how work can be designed so that people will actually enjoy doing it and want to continue doing it.  The traditional theory was that employees were driven by straightforward areas of self interest, be they financial incentives or work that is interesting and offers a path to advancement.  Grant’s research has exploded this thinking, asserting that people can be deeply motivated by the opportunity to be of service to their fellow mankind.  In fact, Grant has proven that when an employee’s work contributes to improving the lives of others, that worker is more productive than he would be if his job only benefited himself.  

5 Ways to Summerize Corporate Philanthropy

tropical vacation packages

It’s not just your imagination: summer is getting in the way of getting things done at work.  To the tune of a 20 percent drop in workplace productivity, according to a Captivate Network study, with projects taking 13 percent longer to complete and workers becoming a whopping 45 percent more distracted.

Holy guacamole! (Preferably served poolside, with extra chips, thank you).  Should we all just surrender to the sunshine and rendezvous back in September?

If only.  But how to corral all those wandering minds and keep them focused on work during the lazy days of summer?  

3pm Monday: A Time for BBQ and Corporate Philanthropy

memorial day weekend bbq

Everyone knows that Memorial Day is the unofficially official kickoff to summer.  Bring on the beach (if it’s near), head to the mall for those awesome deals and fire up the grill for some burgers and beer.  The fun frenzy often obscures the actual purpose of the holiday.  In fact, a 2011 poll found that 80% of Americans don’t understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day, even though people often confuse the two.  We honor all veterans on Veterans Day, but Memorial Day is reserved for remembering those vets who died in service of their country, especially those who died in battle.  Originally established as Decoration Day in 1868, the ceremonies surrounding this holiday have evolved over the years and are observed with some slight differences throughout the country (indeed, many of the Southern states take an additional day to observe the Confederate soldiers who died in war).

In 2000, Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” as a way of properly honoring America’s fallen heroes.  The White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance is chartered with encouraging “the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.  

Corporate Philanthropy Makeover: This is How You Reinvent Yourself

I love SF

San Francisco’s tech elite has experienced a disastrous PR crisis as of late.  With its steady encroachment visible everywhere - from Google buses to skyrocketing rents - there’s a perception that the tech elite have stomped on the very soul of the city on the bay, forcing the closure of iconic landmarks, pushing out longtime residents, and bringing a sense of exclusivity to a once-modest community that always took pride in its inclusiveness.  The economic divide created by the dominance of the city’s tech sector is a very real and thorny issue with no easy answers.

As I wrote about recently, several arrogant CEO’s have poured gasoline on the problem with tone deaf comments about the city’s hoi polloi, lighting up all sorts of fiery reactions and resentments. What I noted then was that the blowback was unfortunate, as the tech community is largely civic minded and generous when it comes to corporate giving.  That said, my suggestion to tech leaders was to make sure they’re being proficient and efficient with how they’re engaging their employees in the community, above all by supporting employees with inspiring volunteer opportunities that motivate them to be ambassadors of good will and positive change.

So I was thrilled to read in John Diaz’s recent SFGate article that venture investor Ron Conway’s alliance of tech companies,, has chosen a signature initiative for 2014 that gets its members deeply involved with the heart of the city’s future - its children.  Specifically, will begin linking its 900 members to volunteer programs in San Francisco’s 116 public schools, starting with low-income schools in the city’s southeastern quadrant, with one goal being to expose kids to careers in technology.  School principals will be asked what they need in the classroom, and is partnering with the San Francisco Education Fund - which has been connecting volunteers to schools for the last 50 years - to further ensure that its efforts yield real impact.

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