How to prioritize corporate philanthropy during an economic downturn

by Ana Lopez

Sri is the chief product and strategy officer at WizeHivethat provides a platform, services and support to mission-based organizations.

As a business leader, a changing economic landscape can make you think and rethink the scope and timing of your philanthropic or corporate social responsibility programs. But I believe pulling out when demand is greatest can be a mistake. Companies can set an example to their employees, customers and the market at large in how they manage corporate philanthropy in the face of economic uncertainty.

Through my experience as CEO of a CSR platform for companies, I have seen that the sheer number of crises in recent years – the pandemic is one of the most impactful on a global scale – presented unparalleled opportunities for social impact. While some companies responded by withdrawing their philanthropic efforts, others doubled down and expanded their CSR programs despite the uncertainty. From my perspective, those who projected fortitude in an inconsistent climate not only demonstrated confidence in the staying power of their companies, but also proved the value of their commitments.

The pandemic was a barometer of change. Because a global crisis of such magnitude was unprecedented, it gave those who could help the need to do so, often in new ways. Anheuser-Busch and Tito’s handmade vodkafor example, repurposed distilleries for the production of hand sanitizer. Gap Inc., Adidas and Carhartt started making jackets and masks for first responders. Similarly, a number of companies contributed to at-risk populations that were particularly hard hit by Covid-19.

Regardless of the industry, many companies came forward to offer what they could. Participating in social impact initiatives doesn’t have to look like one thing. Some companies engage through corporate gifts, grants, or funding local programs that give back, while others sponsor workplace volunteer programs, give employees time off to do good, or link their employees’ donations to charitable foundations. Regardless of a company’s approach—some even encompass both corporate and employee programs—a visible and intentional commitment to philanthropy can make a difference in both impact and market perception.

“Research shows that people really believe that [companies] have purpose and clear values ​​when they see management make a decision that sacrifices short-term profitability to adhere to those values,” said the Harvard Business Review. Companies’ willingness to get involved in their communities in meaningful ways made them more human.

The lessons of Covid-19 seem to last. Despite concerns about an impending economic downturn, a survey in February from The Conference Board shows that 94% of respondents planned to maintain or increase their company’s charitable giving in 2022. From my perspective, brand loyalty is enhanced through genuine philanthropic efforts to increase well-being in their communities. In an increasingly automated world, customers, as well as current and future employees, are looking for companies with heart.

So think about the steps your business can take to start, increase, or sustain in the face of a changing economy:

1. Be intentional in your plans for the coming year.

Once you’ve determined the types of philanthropy programs you’ll be offering — whether community grants, disaster relief, workplace donations, etc. — communicate clearly with your stakeholders, employees, and community partners. This gives you the opportunity to better involve all parties and also hold yourself accountable for the commitments you make.

2. Be creative with what you have to offer.

For every company that pulled back in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, there was one that learned to run. I believe that the companies that came up with creative ways to leverage their pre-existing resources are the companies whose names we remember. Those are the companies that have built an excellent reputation not only in their industries but also in the market as a whole. Find creative ways to give to make a sustainable, long-lasting impact on your community and improve your resilience.

3. Prioritize giving programs as an investment in value offerings that set you apart from competitors.

Companies that strive to make a difference can attract and retain talent, increasingly focused on finding meaningful work. Research of America’s Charities (registration required), which surveyed 1,586 employees, indicates that nearly 71% of people prefer to work for a company whose values ​​align with their personal values, and about 60% want to work for companies “where the culture and giving supports”. volunteering.” With the added pressure of a downturn in the economy, workers may be less able to make financial contributions to charities they believe in.

Consider supporting them with options such as a financial matching program, a dollars for doers initiative, or allocating company time for volunteer work. This can keep your employees engaged and motivated while serving your community.

4. Be honest about the cost and reach of your giving initiatives.

Philanthropy News Digest suggests assessing the “cost per impact” of your giving programs to determine how best to allocate limited capital for maximum reach. Instead of relying on giving programs used during boom times, you can find alternative ways of philanthropy that are more cost-effective but allow you to make a meaningful social impact on a large group.

Despite its inherent challenges, an economic downturn can also provide an opportunity to lean further into your philanthropic efforts, helping you serve as a beacon of consistency and goodwill when people need it most. By establishing or strengthening your business as a committed player in the philanthropic giving space, you will not only be doing good in the world, but also potentially cementing your role as a leader in your industry and as a leader of social impact in the community .


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