While charitable donations are helpful, there’s much more businesses and leaders can do to make a difference to society. Often, an approach beyond financial giving is more effective and, when it’s well-considered, it can unite colleagues and enforce a company’s brand values.
Corporates regularly face pressure to be socially responsible yet can also be criticised when trying to do the right thing; even charitable donations shouldn’t be given without thinking it through.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced last year that they would donate 99 per cent of their shares – valued at approximately $45 billion (£30 billion) – to “make the world better.” Yet, because they are looking to establish the philanthropic project as a limited liability company rather than a charitable foundation, many have suggested the initiative is a tax avoidance scheme.
The social network founder is not alone. In September 2014, the leaders of US rifle manufacturer Henry Repeating Arms were criticised for donating proceeds from the sale of custom rifles to a four-year-old battling primary pulmonary hypertension.
Criticaleye finds out how leaders can ensure they get it right when it comes to giving something back:
Align it With Your Strategy
Don’t just give for the sake of giving – determine your objective and why it fits with your business.
In 2011 Rob Woodward, CEO at Scottish media company STV, set up the STV Children’s Appeal in conjunction with Sir Tom Hunter and The Hunter Foundation. It raises funds for Scotland’s poverty-stricken children.
“There is a horrendous child poverty issue in Scotland that wasn’t particularly publicised. We wanted to tell stories about it, raise awareness and money,” Rob says.
“As Scotland’s largest commercial media company, part of our strategy is to keep close to communities; be local and accessible. So the work that we’re doing through the STV Appeal sits very comfortably in the minds of our consumers.”
The appeal raises money for existing charities or action groups that are shown to make a difference to child poverty; funding is largely used to grow services or duplicate them. So far it has raised £11.1 million, helping just under 60,000 children.
“Our key priority is to demonstrate hope through the success of the projects that we fund,” says Rob.
This year, Criticaleye begun working with The Girls’ Network, a charity that matches girls from low socio-economic backgrounds with inspirational female mentors. Jamie Wilson, Managing Director at Criticaleye, says: “The idea was put forward by one of our younger members of staff, who is now leading the initiative, which in itself has fostered a powerful buy-in across the team.
“Through working with an organisation like The Girls’ Network, we are able to positively impact the future of business by empowering young people to confidently shape their futures. At the same time, it connects our team with the value of mentoring, which is such an important component of our service offering.”
Leaders, Set an Example
Each year since the STV appeal was launched, Rob has embarked on a personal challenge. In 2015, he did an abseil, kayak and 50-mile cycle in three consecutive days.
“The only way I know to spread the word to all our staff is by doing it myself. I want to do it and set a particular tone – I think this is why we’ve had such overwhelming support from all our staff.”
Martin Hess, Vice President of Enterprise Services Sales for the UK & Ireland at Hewlett-Packard, takes the same hands-on approach. Last year, he and 15 other HP employees travelled to a poverty-stricken township in Cape Town, South Africa, to help build 12 classrooms, two toilet blocks and two playgrounds with the charity Mellon Educate.
“It started as a discussion in the canteen one day between a couple of us,” Martin says. “HP gave us the time off work and supported it by sponsoring us £150 each. We also ran a number of fundraising events throughout the year. It reflected well on HP but we were there as individuals.”
Cisco Systems has been involved with Comic Relief for over 15 years, and around seven years ago Phil Smith, CEO for the UK and Ireland, signed up for a triathlon to raise money. It was then he recognised that his personal involvement was spurring others to set their own challenges. “People were starting to use me as a reason, saying: ‘If the boss can do it, I can.’
So in 2012, Phil founded LeaderBoard, a cross-industry team of over 30 UK CEOs who have since raised thousands of pounds for Comic Relief by competing in triathlons, with another coming up this year.
Get Your Staff on Board
Charitable work can bring colleagues together, improve relationships and enable staff to feel proud of their achievements.
Martin says that hierarchies went out the window during their South Africa trip: “There were all different levels of people; there were account managers, vice presidents, technical people… when you’re laying breeze blocks or mixing cement, hierarchy is ignored, everybody mucks in together.”
Coming together in this way can really improve staff pride and enjoyment. In Cisco’s last employee engagement survey, 100 per cent of staff said they felt proud to work there, says Phil. “Charity is all part of that. If you just do the day job it’s hard to get that kind of engagement,” he explains.
“When you ask people what they’ve enjoyed the most over the last few years they tend to refer to the things we’ve done on Red Nose Day and for Sports Relief.”
Rob agrees, noting that the STV Appeal has built staff moral and teamwork. “Virtually every member of staff has backed the appeal, whether it’s organising cake bakes, running marathons or climbing mountains. It’s acted as a fantastic catalyst to bring our teams together.”
At Warren Partners, leaders and staff are encouraged to take part in a number of activities, including helping local and national causes through the UK Community Foundations, volunteering days and pro-bono trustee recruitment for charities. Also, since 2008, leaders, staff and friends of the executive search firm have undertaken a biennial sponsored charity bike ride abroad.
“As individuals we learn lots and it fits with our company values,” says Executive Chairman Joëlle Warren. “In helping others, we often benefit the most. It’s hugely meaningful to the team, it really brings you together.”
Make a Real Difference
While charities find money incredibly useful, longer-lasting initiatives and partnerships can be priceless.
Jane Furniss, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Deputy Chair at homelessness charity Crisis, says: “One off donations are great for specific projects but most charities need a reliable income to meet regular outgoings. Corporate charity of the year events are important and I wouldn’t diminish the value, it’s nice whether you’re getting £5,000 or £500 and there is a strong feeling that the organisation has chosen you, yet a more sustained relationship is of much greater value.”
Joëlle takes pride in the longevity of the relationships they have built with various not-for-profit organisations. “We’ve always believed that the business exists in a system and that we are part of a broader community. I think doing these things helps us to appreciate that in a new way,” she says.
For Martin, it’s all about individuals getting involved: “It’s great when big companies really help charities, but there’s a difference between donating and individuals going right to the coalface in a really poor, destitute environment like we did.”
On a personal level Martin says the experience left him feeling enriched, adding that “most of us spend our lives in a bubble where the only thing that matters is the company and how it’s doing”.
In light of this, Martin is trying to get HP staff more involved in The Prince’s Trust. “HP is a big contributor and I’m the HP representative of the technology leadership group. I’m trying to get more of us to act as direct coaches and mentors to the children that the organisation helps.”
Active involvement is often more powerful than just giving cash. At STV there is an open invitation for staff to visit one of the many projects funded through the appeal. Rob comments: “It’s very humbling when you go to look at some of the projects we have funded; then you realise the enormity of the problem that we are trying to tackle. It brings home the impact we are having.”
By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory
Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about the featured charities here:
You can also contact each of the contributors through Criticaleye.