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Corporate Philanthropy & Volunteering Blog

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Magic Hour for Causes


Happy 40th, National Volunteer Week.       

Endorsed and supported by President Obama, Congress and other national and state leaders, National Volunteer Week kicked off on April 6th this year and winds down on April 12th, with thousands of volunteer projects and special events having taken place throughout the week.  The President called upon all Americans to observe this week by volunteering in service projects across our country and pledging to make service a part of their daily lives.  

Ever since 1974, when President Nixon first set the ball in motion, National Volunteer Week has celebrated the power of civic service and galvanized more profound community engagement.  But the week is more than just a general appreciation for volunteering.  It’s an observance that has become a cornerstone event for corporate philanthropy leaders as a way of spurring further participation in and support for their organizations’ community work.

As such, the week is recognized by corporations and nonprofit organizations in numerous events throughout the country.  

Every year, I love hearing about the ways that companies honor their commitment to volunteering during National Volunteer Week.  This special time is always a magic hour for causes, when enormous attention is focused on giving back and the spirit of good will permeates everywhere, especially throughout corporate corridors.  

I hope that this week has been one of inspiration, with many examples like these:  

Real Business Philanthropy Starts with Real Stories

storytelling here sign

Storytelling is a hot marketing buzzword these days, and for good reason; in the business world, it’s the newest form of smart corporate communications.  Telling your story is imperative for many aspects of business, and a particularly important practice when it comes to strategic philanthropy.

Administrators of successful volunteer and giving programs understand that storytelling makes a big difference in how their corporate philanthropy efforts impact their chosen causes as well as their employees and business community.  How, what and to whom you communicate information about your volunteer and giving program all play a critical role in whether your volunteer program soars or flops.

Breaking Down the Benefits of Gifts In Kind

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In kind giving is the low hanging fruit of corporate philanthropy, an excellent way for business leaders to give back by leveraging their corporate strengths and assets.  It can be an easy lift for companies, with the reward of a nice tax deduction accompanying the significant impact in one’s community or across the world (in the case of donating materials to assist with global disasters, for example).  Not to mention increased employee engagement, recruitment, retention and the plain ol’ good karma of responsible corporate citizenship.

The IRS regulations when it comes to gifts in kind can be confusing.  But they’re well worth leveraging.  As noted by Brian Mittendorf, Professor of Accounting and MIS at The Ohio State University Fisher School of Business, “The IRS rules are such that a company is likely to see greater tax benefits from donating inventory than from donating cash.”

With that in mind, here are a few rules of the road:

Mind the Gap: a Tragic Waste of Talent


Recently, I was chatting with a close friend who holds a senior position at a Fortune 50 company.  This is someone who is utterly driven, obsessed with work and defined in large part by his professional life, rarely slowing down to catch his breath.  But a back injury had forced him to slow down.  In fact, the injury was significant enough that he’d been compelled to take a medical leave for a couple of months.  

Now my buddy was due to return to work, and I asked him how he was feeling.  His answer stunned me.  Having taken a step back from the day to day grind, my friend had a better picture of the big picture.  And it was coming up somewhat empty.  

“I wish I felt more of a sense of purpose.  Like it all added up to something more meaningful.”  Without that sense of larger purpose, his job now felt like something that just took him away from his kids.  

What about your company’s volunteering program, I asked.  Are you involved with that?

I guess there’s a corporate volunteering program, he said vaguely.  Maybe I’ve overlooked a few emails about it here and there.  But I really don’t hear much about it.  So, no.  

This is a high-level executive who only has a dim understanding of how he can engage in his company’s attempts at giving back.  And if someone at his level is in the dark, you can assume that much of the rest of the company is as well.

My friend is, in fact, rather philanthropic and active in his community.  But his charitable involvement all takes place on his own time.  Work is work.  Community work is up to him.  

At least that’s how he sees it.  And that’s a terrible shame.  

The Power of Gifts In Kind

in kind giving

Every kind of giving is valuable when it comes to corporate philanthropy, but one kind to keep in mind is gifts in-kind.  Contributions of goods and services, as opposed to cash grants, can provide an ideal opportunity for both the contributing company and the recipient nonprofit, enabling a donating company to be more generous than it might have been otherwise.  

Whether it is delivered in the forms of goods, services or expertise, in-kind giving can be more recession-proof than cash gifts.  If your company’s philanthropy budgets are tight, in-kind gifts may offer a more accessible giving pathway that allows your organization to flourish at giving back regardless of last quarter’s numbers.  

This is because many in-kind donations are tax deductible.  Although there’s no single formula that can determine the value of donated goods, the IRS’s Publication 561 is a guide to determining the fair market value (FMV) of donated property.  The FMV is the agreed-upon price that the property would sell for on the open market between a willing buyer and seller. So, for example, technology organizations that use the nonprofit channel TechSoup to offer their products for free or at a discount to vetted 501(c)(3) charities can write off the fair market value or cost basis (whichever is less) of each item that is distributed.  Bear in mind that not every in-kind donation is tax-deductible; donated services are generally not recognized by the IRS.  

Beyond the tax implications, in-kind giving can draw out novel philanthropic ideas and encourage businesses to become more deeply engaged in the causes at stake.  

The 7 Ways You're Not Engaging Your Employees

employee engagement

With all the disgruntled and restless employees out there - a recent study put the percentage of employees who are not fully engaged at 75% - employee engagement is as high a concern as ever.  Company leaders do somersaults to maximize the engagement of their employees and, by extension, their bottom lines.  Administrators scour the landscape for tools and programs - such as volunteer and giving programs - that will increase employee engagement.  And employees, well, they just want to be engaged.  And if they’re not, they’ll leave.  Or never join your company in the first place.

But despite the ongoing attention around employee engagement, most company leaders still can’t seem to create a culture defined by fully productive employees.  Why is this?  

TINYpulse, a technology solution that helps companies gather employee feedback, recently conducted a survey of more than 300 organizations, gathering responses from more than 400,000 employees.  Here are the seven key takeaways that TINYpulse concluded about employee engagement today:

The Key Ingredient of CSR

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Ever since the term "corporate social responsibility" became popularized in the 1960s, it’s been used to cover a broad swath of ethical issues, including those that affect the environment, human rights, supply-chain sustainability, consumers and transparency with corporate governance.  All of the world’s largest companies have corporate social responsibility programs; indeed, according to a 2013 study by Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship, 97% of surveyed companies reported being allocated a discreet operating budget for corporate citizenship, compared with 81% in 2010.   So it seems safe to say that CSR is a business approach that is here to stay.

Companies integrate CSR into their businesses in a variety of ways.  Organizations that prioritize environmental sustainability, for example, minimize their carbon footprints by reducing their pollution and developing clean energy solutions.  Ethical labor practices are also a significant focus of many CSR programs, particularly with organizations that have a global presence.  And of course corporate philanthropy is an important aspect of CSR, one that can be achieved through donations of money, goods or time, with employee volunteering and giving a particularly strong source of charitable firepower if properly harnessed.

But there is still lively debate about the financial merits of CSR.  Supporters insist that CSR is intricately tied to a company’s profitability and long-term viability, specifically helping to supercharge a company's public image, media visibility and positive workplace environment, for starters. Detractors argue that CSR distracts from a company’s bottom line and serves as nothing more than expensive window dressing for a company’s PR efforts.  The issue between profitability and social responsibility is one that continues to be much studied, but the debate is bound to persist until more conclusive data is gathered.

5 Habits of Companies that Rock at Giving Back

Heart shaped Arts   Heart shaped lights   Heart shaped architecture   Lights on a building   Skyline

As corporate volunteering and giving programs become increasingly prominent at companies across the country, best practices are shaped by the leaders of the pack.  So which companies are paving the way at community engagement right now, and what’s their secret?

A recent report unveiled a list of the 50 most community-minded corporations, as well as the common characteristics of their engagement activities.  The findings were gathered by Civic 50, a national initiative to survey and rank S&P 500 corporations on how they engage with the communities they serve and institutionalize these practices in their corporate cultures.

The report affirms the important role that companies play when it comes to generating community impact.  And it concludes that impact doesn’t come from checkbooks alone (although certainly, corporate giving helps).  Rather, companies harness their power most effectively when they contribute the expertise and resources of their businesses and employees.  And the best way to fuel this kind of company-wide involvement is by cultivating a culture of civic engagement, which comes most easily when companies carefully match their approach to giving back with their core business competencies.

So which companies stand out as stars in community engagement?  According to the report, here are the winners:

Increasing Employee Engagement in Your Corporate Volunteer Programs


Anyone involved in managing a corporate volunteer program always faces the same questions: what sort of cause curriculum makes sense for my company, what will generate the most impact and how can I get our employees excited to participate?

Turns out these are distinctly separate considerations that are sometimes at odds with each other.  

That’s what Jesse Hertstein discovered when he wrestled over whether his company should organize a global volunteer day.  As the Senior Corporate Citizen Specialist for Amway, Hertstein felt that the company’s greatest opportunity for community impact was at the grassroots level.  And indeed, Amway was doing meaningful work through each of its worldwide offices, so why mess with a good thing by undertaking the heavy lift of a global volunteer day? Hertstein was understandably reluctant.  With all the work involved, it could still end up being nothing more than a showy performance that benefited Amway far more than the causes at stake.

Hertstein changed his mind, and here’s why.

San Francisco: Community Impact Needed, Fast


The Bay Area is getting a rough rap lately.  As tech entrepreneurs assume an ever larger role in the social heartbeat of the most expensive city in the country, much has been written about the widening gap between the rich and everyone else.  Recklessly insensitive comments by some of these tech leaders have been highly unhelpful, casting a cold, arrogant image on San Francisco’s tech elite and creating distrust and resentment between the haves and have nots. 

For example, if you’ve got a few moments, read this blog detailing some atrocious poppycock from the mouths of CEOs.  If you don’t have a few moments, here’s a quick lowlight, thanks to one CEO with either a severely damaged ego or a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease: 

"The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it's a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that's okay.

In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it's their place of leisure... In actuality it's the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA. It is a disgrace. I don't even feel safe walking down the sidewalk without planning out my walking path.

You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It's a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I'd consider thinking different, but the crazy toothless lady who kicks everyone that gets too close to her cardboard box hasn't made anyone's life better in a while."

Another leading light called for those in technology to "build an opt-in society, outside the US, run by technology." He believes that "We need to run the experiment, to show what a society run by Silicon Valley looks like without affecting anyone who wants to live under the Paper Belt (i.e., government.)”  


Let me just add this note to the discussion about San Francisco’s civic dissension: it doesn’t have to be this way. 

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