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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.

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 Key Ingredient of CSR

key ingredient

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.

Employee Engagement Ideas from the Most Engaged Cities


A new report from Quantum Workplace introduces some fascinating data about the best places and conditions for high employee engagement.

This study, as with so many others before it, reminds us upfront of the connection between employee engagement and profitability, so the data here is relevant to any organization with a headcount exceeding one.

The good news is that employee engagement is creeping back to more palatable levels after dipping dramatically during the depths of the recession.  According to Quantum’s engagement survey, 67.7% of employees ranked as engaged in 2012.  Quantum divided and analyzed these respondents within four categories: engaged, contributing, disengaged and hostile.

As I read through the firm’s analysis of employee engagement across cities, industries, job positions and other categories, I found that their key revelations only underscored the power of corporate volunteer and giving programs to increase engagement.

5 Employee Volunteering Programs that Resonate

fish 3

Nowadays, corporate volunteer programs are de regueur at most companies, at least those that take employee engagement seriously.  But while so many businesses are skillfully leading their employees along admirable mission of corporate philanthropy, some companies are putting their own stamps on these efforts in particularly memorable ways.

For example, here are five innovative programs that have stayed with me (and which undoubtedly stay with the employees involved in them, too):

5 Companies Giving Back: Best of Community Involvement Programs

Honest 3

I love seeing companies get creative with giving back.  As a matter of fact, I make it a point to talk to as many CSR leaders as I can to learn how they’re embracing the full potential of their employees to create profound impact in their communities.  The stories are always so inspiring, and I usually discover new ways that businesses are prioritizing employee volunteer and giving programs.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Letter to a CEO: Why Your Corporate Philanthropy Is Languishing

CEO listening

Dear CEO:

Your heart is in the right place, it really is.  

You know that corporate volunteering and giving are essential programs to have in place at your company if you want to create a positive culture and brand, keep your employees engaged, and recruit top talent - especially Millennials.  And giving back to your community is important not just for the benefits it accrues to your company but also, of course, for the support it offers to the nonprofits and causes you care so deeply about.  You’d like to get your company on track with volunteering and giving, and maybe you’re even scoring a few base hits here and there with your efforts.

But...can I be honest here?  You’re going about it all wrong.  And unfortunately, you’re only scratching the surface of your company’s potential, making the lives of your program administrators needlessly stressful, and - worst of all - failing to inspire your employees or bring out the best in them (or even bring them out to participate at all), which undermines the whole point of your cause venture in the first .  

Here’s where you’re missing the boat:     

The Secret to Losing Your CSR Job

deal depression after losing job 800X800 resized 600

Whenever I hear about a company that’s choosing to build their own employee volunteer and giving platform from scratch, I shudder.  I can see the horrors that will unfold before them as clearly as if I’m watching a bad movie.  

As the CEO of a company that has created an off-the-shelf volunteer and giving platform (one which is customizable but universal), I know full well the blood, sweat and tears that goes into developing a corporate philanthropy tool that’s feature-rich and bug-free.  Software developers who promise you a customized moon are either intentionally or unwittingly luring you into dangerous waters without a paddle. 

Custom software has a time and place, but using it to construct your own employee volunteer and giving platform from the ground up, a la an Amish barn-raising, is not that time or place.  

Fundraising Ideas for Employee Engagement in Corporate Giving

color wars 3

It’s no secret that corporate volunteer programs are a must.  One study (amongst many) shows that almost one-third of U.S. corporations now embrace some form of employee volunteering, representing a growth of nearly 150% in the last few decades.  Millennials in particular are demanding that office perks include the opportunity to volunteer as a part of their company’s supportive, inspiring and innovative program.  I hear it all the time - leaders at companies without these programs are realizing that young people aren’t knocking on their doors that often, and, consequently, their workforce is growing noticeably grayer. 

But if employee volunteer programs function as a corporate fountain of youth (amongst many other benefits, of course), what about employee giving programs?  Are companies also turning to these programs to stay attractive and relevant to the next generation? 

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