Corporate philanthropy that builds social brand equity

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer – that polled more than 34,000 people in 28 countries – reports that businesses are trusted to be more ethical than governments. In other words, people look up to corporations to help solve society’s most pressing problems.

The term corporate social responsibility (CSR) was coined by Dr. Howard Bowen in the early 50s, when he asserted that business leaders have a moral obligation to address key societal problems. Since then, CSR has become a catchall of corporate donations, cause marketing, responsible sourcing, employee matching, and environmental sustainability.

Despite its prevalence, CSR or any form of corporate philanthropy is effective only when there is ardent buy-in from the leadership and is executed using employee participation. In essence, these social initiatives need to signal corporate ethics, morality, and integrity – for an organisation to become truly ‘purpose-driven’. Leaders who build this ‘purpose’ into their organizations will create better companies and in turn, communities.

Having the workforce involved in these ‘purpose-driven’ social initiatives contributes to creating employee engagement, commitment, and organisational citizenship. This PwC survey shows that 88% of millennials want to work for a company that has a larger social purpose.

Steve Enyeart, President of First National Capital tells, “offering our employees the opportunity to direct philanthropic efforts builds team equity and engagement.” Let us look at how a few of the world’s top organisations strengthen their philanthropy lever through employee participation:

Energy efficiency initiatives

In a study on how ‘Corporate Citizenship Impacts Employee Engagement’, employees stated that offering energy efficiency initiatives was the most significant social activity their employer could take part in.

On 20th January 2020, Amazon India announced that its delivery fleet will include 10,000 electric vehicles (EV) by 2025. This move was a part of Amazon committing to a 100,000 EV delivery fleet by 2030 globally – announced in the Climate Pledge signed by them. With this initiative, Amazon aims to reduce carbon emissions and thus have more environmentally friendly operations.

Similarly, employees of Chubb Ltd worked together to make their organisation greener. They implemented non-plastic cutlery, LED light bulbs, and motion-sensor lighting to make their offices more energy efficient. Their employees have internal committees that lead and participate in environmental clean-up projects like beach clean-ups.

As part of the new 2030 targets, Starbucks too will join in to make the world greener. They have taken up the environmental challenge of a 50% reduction in waste to landfill by joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. They have also taken up greener operational drives by increasing plant-based offerings in their stores, introducing reusable packaging and investing in the sustainability of their supply chain.

Social business innovations

While many organisations thrive on disruptive innovation, these are seldom used for the causes that solve social issues. When organisations invest their innovative efforts into social causes and significantly impact these, their employees and other stakeholders are reaffirmed on the impact of the company’s purpose.

2019 witnessed quite a few of such social business innovations:

American car manufacturer Ford teamed up with fast food chain McDonald’s to turn coffee waste into car parts using bioengineering – that are lighter than their standard parts and reduces fuel consumption.

United Kingdom-headquartered Dendra Systems uses swarms of drones that can plant trees 150 times faster than traditional methods and has a target of planting 500 billion trees.

To help people sort their trash in China, online retailers JD.com, Alibaba and Tencent created an app that identifies four waste categories—wet, dry, hazardous or recyclable – with the use of artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, Wrangler became the first jeans brand to dye denim using foam, a technique that reduces water use.

Employee matching programs

These are corporate giving programs in which the company matches donations made by employees to eligible non-profit organizations and complete the donation. In a recent annual survey of corporate philanthropy and employee engagement, 92 percent of surveyed companies offer at least one kind of gift matching program to their employees with 78 percent offering two (typically an annual workplace giving campaign and a year-round program).

Apple, for instance, were pioneers in offering 1-for-1 donation matches for their employees. Even First National’s CEO and Founder, Keith Duggan, recently made a matching contribution to further enhance the company’s social stance.

Ongoing options to volunteering

In 2019 alone, roughly 21,000 Apple employees volunteered their time for social causes. “We have a mission here at Apple to change the world for the better, and give back to the communities in which we live and work,” says Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives.

Similarly, Hundreds of Portland Kaiser Permanente employees helped build housing for low-income community members. As part of Kaiser Permanente’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, employees volunteered at the low-income housing project, spending the day painting, building planter boxes and cleaning cabinets. There are other companies like Cisco that offers a week of paid time off and Intuit, that offers up to 32 hours a year for the employees to volunteer in the community.

Social event sponsorship

Many organisations take up the complete sponsorship of social events that addresses key social causes like low-cost house building, education drives or disaster support drives. Bank of America, for instance, sponsors book drives to collect books for local community outreach centers.

Over the last several years, First National Capital has launched a charitable giving and community participation initiative to empower their employees to support causes they are passionate about while continuing the company’s commitment to community involvement.

Skill based volunteering

The best way to connect employee passion with the causes that they care about is to tap into their skills rather than their wallets. Many companies see the value in harnessing employee skills to support community issues. Activities such as accountants helping non-profits develop spreadsheets and engineers teaching kids STEM education are gaining significance. These initiatives are further relevant because 68% of non-profit professionals are reported not to have skilled resources they need to do their work.

For example, IBM Corporate Service Corps program creates global leaders who are fit to offer leadership training and development for leaders in local communities. Similarly, PepsiCorps is a skill-based volunteer program run by PepsiCo, in which associates from around the world form teams that are deployed to help local communities address societal challenges. Even Deloitte offers an executive management training for local non-profit executives called the Deloitte Center for Leadership & Community (DCLC).

Cash and gift donations

“Cash and gift donations help engage employees by allowing them to fundraise for a cause, even involve their family, or donate their time as well as funds,” says Adam Weinger, President of Double the Donation. Roughly 59% of Saints of Steel’s first year of donations was made by Apple employees – denoting that giving is ingrained in Apple team members and corporate employees across the globe.

There are a number of philanthropy options that match the exact social interest of the employee and the fund recipient. Bhumi, for instance, works towards bridging the skill gap by working with underprivileged children. Wherein, Vidyaranya is on a mission to empower the under-privileged children, women and elderly.

Madurai Health and Leprosy Relief Centre conducts leprosy awareness classes, case detection, treatment and rehabilitation services and Points for people work to power the growth of rural and tribal communities.

Giving social grants

Social grants are another way of participating in corporate philanthropy. Employees join hands to fund large social initiatives taken up by non-profits – like educational scholarships, program funding, home-building or relocation service.

For instance, Employees of ACA International’s three offices—New York, Georgia and Texas— honoured 17 worthy organizations with gifts ranging between $1,000 and $15,000. Kaiser Permanente , in another example, is funding a $5.1 million project to provide homes for 300 homeless seniors. Hudson Pacific Properties, too, has pledged $500,000 to Union Rescue Mission, a Los Angeles-based non-profit working to provide both emergency and long-term services to adults and children experiencing homelessness.

Summing up:

Corporate giving helps organisations impact societal well-being and in turn, help create better communities. It is a double-edged sword when employees are a vital part of it. Philanthropy helps employees connect with the true purpose of the organisation and extend their efforts to improving their society. These purpose-driven businesses can not only create positive societal impact but can also give a clear sense of drive that strengthens employee satisfaction, improves productivity and retention.

Looking beyond CSR and tax savings, philanthropy helps employees and employers meaningfully connect with each other and their communities.