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July 28, 2021

Philanthropy: A 21st Century Business Strategy

Post By:
Abigail Axelrod-Wunderman
Founder and Chief Insight Officer
Useful Views Philanthropy
Guest Contributor:

Did you know that as of 2020, Millennials make up the largest demographic in the American workforce? They also represent an overwhelming portion of today's consumers. As the adage goes, there is strength in numbers! While every generation comes with its unique challenges, employers and business owners would benefit by understanding the Millennial mindset, particularly when it comes to the importance of helping the community. In addition to the humanitarian motivation to help others, companies with successful corporate philanthropy strategies receive impactful benefits for their brand, their workforce, and their bottom line. As a result, corporate philanthropy has been considered among some of the most influential business strategies for success in the 21st century.

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Building Your Brand with Millennials in Mind

Deloitte's 2019 survey highlighted that Millennials are highly skeptical about the core motives that drive significant business. Those who took part in this survey agreed companies were not committed enough to improve the communities surrounding them or driving broader social change.

Due to many factors (economic instability due to COVID-19 or racial justice being two recent examples), Millennials have a deep mistrust of business practices. The extent of distrust, in turn, has led to disillusionment about both their careers and life outside of work. This scope of malcontent, for a motivated workforce, does not make. However, you will have a dedicated crew of mighty Millennials if your business takes corporate giving seriously.

As a business owner, this attitude does not just extend to your workforce. It also extends to your customer base. Millennials will not hesitate to remove their patronage from companies that do not align with their values. More so than any generation before them, Millennials are educated regarding suspicious business practices or unfavorable political leanings. Millennials feel they have a responsibility to create change. And in spite of their wider malcontent, Millennials remain positive about their ability to achieve this change.

Millennial Consumers Encourage Philanthropy

There is a reason Millennials are now being coined "the impact generation." They are holding businesses to account for their internal practices, and this extends to philanthropy. But like most of their seemingly high expectations, they walk the walk. Millennials part with their hard-earned dollars to give to charitable causes often and expect corporations with bigger budgets to follow suit.

This is even more impressive with the Deloitte's 2019 survey in mind. The study highlights the second biggest concern (after climate change) for Millennials is income inequality, and the third is unemployment. Despite experiencing financial instability and massive student debt, charitable giving is still a high priority for Millennials.

This obsession with philanthropy is in part due to the digital era. Advancements in technology make it easier to support a cause at the click of a button. Whether this is the transfer of money, social sharing, or both. Young people are creating communities centered upon essential causes and the sense of camaraderie it brings. They expect the same passion for philanthropy from businesses.

Millennials will judge a business based on their commitment to remaining socially responsible and giving back to the communities that surround them. They are a generation that believes life should be better for everyone and want to work for and support businesses that have a positive impact on the world. This should be commended!

How Can Your Business Adapt?

It is worth repeating Millennials are set to make up almost 75% of the American workforce by 2025. They will make up the market share of employees in your business. Are you prepared to meet this change head-on? There are a few simple things your business can do to adapt and prosper in the dawning of the age of the Millennial!

A great place to start is to make your business accountable. What are your core company values and policies? Are these in line with the expectations of your employees? Encourage your workforce to be involved in the decision-making process. Organize a brainstorming session with each department to find out their values or ask for suggestions via email. This small gesture will go a long way in cultivating an environment in which employees feel valued.

Setting Your Business Apart with Philanthropy

Corporate philanthropy continues to rise, and it could be a sign that many growing businesses are seeing the immediate benefits of supporting their communities. According to Giving USA, giving by corporations is estimated to have increased by 13.4% in 2019, totaling $21.09 billion. This significant growth tells of this type of giving, which is highly responsive to changes in corporate pre-tax profits and GDP.

However, many executives still find it hard to justify charitable expenditures in terms of bottom-line benefits. The solution is to be more strategic in your corporate philanthropy. But what passes for "strategic philanthropy" today is seldom strategic, and often it isn't even particularly effective as philanthropy. Increasingly, philanthropy is used as a form of public relations or advertising, promoting a company's image or brand through cause-related marketing or sponsorships.

You don't have to be a 100% philanthropy-focused business to help your community or be considered charitable. Even small profit-based companies can give back to their communities in a meaningful way if they incorporate philanthropy into their company culture or develop a community-focused approach to business.

Company culture helps shape how employees view the business and interact with others about your company. If you promote philanthropy, your business sets itself up for a do-good reputation throughout the community.

The Young Entrepreneur Council shared some insights as to how a business could be more philanthropic while building company culture. Here are my top 8:

1. Have A Knowledge-Sharing Mindset

Often, a core value of strategic philanthropists is to pass on knowledge. If businesses (philanthropists) are generous with their time, they can build meaningful relationships throughout their community. Do not be afraid to have discussions beyond your business products. It is important to connect with others about personal core values as this also leads to lasting connections. Likewise, whether you have roots in an area or you are new to your city, finding like-minded business owners helps expand your network and gives you more possibilities to leverage your philanthropy with other businesses.

2. Donate Your Services to Nonprofits with Similar Values

Donate your business services to individuals or nonprofits in need. I worked with an interior design business owner whose passion was nature and children. I connected her with a local nonprofit looking to host classes for children to educate them about sustainable decorating. It was the perfect connection because both parties valued the same things. Their shared values are so strong that COVID-19 can only slow them down but not dismantle them.  

3. Identify Shortcomings in Your Community

One way to set philanthropic goals within your community is to identify shortcomings where you and your business can easily add value. For example, I worked with a healthcare consulting business on their charitable giving. Because the business owners are medical professionals, they were able to provide free consultations to local clients on an ongoing basis. This fits well with their business model and provides positive impacts for their local community residents.

4. Share Philanthropic Leadership

As a leader or business-owner, you have the opportunity to set the tone for your company's values and bring your personal endeavors into your company's efforts. Company culture is all about creating a sense of community within the workplace. Plus, it is just as important to share that company culture outside your business. Let others remember you as being that philanthropic leader in the community and your company will automatically reap the rewards.

5. Offer Internships to Locals

Implementing an internship program can be a great way to give back to your community. Offering students in your area, a local internship can go a long way. Since COVID-19 caused many students worldwide to miss out on their internship opportunities, providing this thoughtful service is a way to help your business and build local talent in your community. Plus, some interns could find jobs in other companies or industries, especially if you provide more generalized training that the marketplace needs. Likewise, some interns will end up working for your company - a win-win!

6. For Every Dollar You Earn Give Back

Some businesses have a giving policy where a certain percentage of profits goes to a charitable cause. Meaning, the company gives back to their community for every dollar earned by reinvesting funds through nonprofits. In some instances, businesses may not consider this to be a profitable philanthropy business model. Regardless of how you view it, emphasizing your company's charitable business model underscores your values and can build company morale and motivation.

7. Organize Team Opportunities with Your Community

Organize opportunities to work with charities and local events. Not only do these types of events allow your team members to connect with one another, they also show that your company does more than donate to a cause -- you are willing to do the work! Also, accept suggestions from your staff on charities with which they may have a connection. If the entire company is part of the decision-making process, this helps build trust and camaraderie. To make the most of this strategy, my advice is to make sure this will not a one-time event. Your company can make this a monthly or quarterly event where you highlight a different nonprofit each time, or build a long-term collaborative alliance between your company, your team, and the nonprofit organization.

8. Leverage Unique Skills

Identifying and sharing your company's unique skillset can is another philanthropic strategy to consider. Seizing opportunities to leverage your specialized talents, skills and resources to help your community will send a lasting message to others about your company's values and culture.

Again, there is a tremendous opportunity for companies to be more socially responsible and help their local community through corporate philanthropy. With so many reasons and ways to get involved in supporting the community, it is a wonder that not all businesses are working with their teams to develop these strategic plans for the future of their brand, workforce, community, and bottom line.