FOCUS ON CHARITABLE GIVING Employees' help can boost programs


OK, your small company has set up a charitable giving program, using the guidelines we looked at last week. Your work isn't over, though. Once such a program is under way, what are some of the do's and don'ts that make it successful?

Focus. To be effective, a charitable giving program, whether it is DuPont's $30 million program or the local consulting firm's $3,000 program, should be focused. Sure, it's a good idea to have some discretionary money put aside for the local Scout troop, but without concentrating most of the funds in a targeted area, giving programs are doomed. If a company is serious about getting results for its hard-earned gifts, it must focus on a particular area and stick with it. Even small, annual gifts to combat a social problem like teen-age pregnancy or homelessness can add up and make a significant difference.

Involve employees. Effective giving programs couple cash or inventory donations with employee participation. Getting employees involved takes many forms, including giving employees time off for tutoring disadvantaged youth or for other community needs.

Employee involvement may also involve a matching gifts program. Such programs, which boost employee morale, foster giving by individual employees. For every dollar the employee gives to charities, the company donates a certain amount to the same charity in the name of the employee. Limits are usually placed on the total amount the company will match, and the causes that can be supported. Employees like the fact that each of their charitable dollars brings in others to help their favorite cause.

Still another way to involve employees is in the design and operations of the company's giving program itself. This creates highly motivated employees who understand the value of charitable gifts.

Reinforce marketing objectives. Small company giving should reinforce marketing objectives, both internal and external. For example, let's say a company wants to increase employee morale and team-building. An excellent way is to involve employees in volunteer programs, such as donating an evening's work in a soup kitchen or a day spent renovating housing. The local United Way campaign can be used as a team-building exercise, too. According to Jim Brady, United Way of Central Maryland 1991 Campaign chairman, staff and volunteers have formed a working group specifically to help companies that haven't run their own campaigns before. Their advice includes ways to achieve employee motivation goals through United Way workplace giving.

Other marketing objectives can be nurtured through informed, charitable giving. These include penetrating new markets, increasing market share, launching new products, or helping relieve social problems that have a direct effect on the business. Many companies, for example, now work with schools to improve science and math education, working toward a more literate work force, which is their lifeblood.

Create partnerships. Quality, small company giving programs seek alliances with other companies, government agencies, private foundations, non-profit agencies and influential policy-makers to achieve their charitable objectives. In this way, every dollar invested is matched by additional dollars and human resources that otherwise would not be available.

Check effectiveness. A small company should make sure its giving program is effective by asking for reports from recipients. If things are not working as planned, the company needs to either apply midstream corrections or move onto other ways of tackling the needs it chose to address.

Treat requesting agencies with respect. Just because a company is besieged by requests is no reason for it to be discourteous. Social needs are every bit as real as business needs. Companies should design a streamlined response system that quickly weeds out requests not in the company's interests and makes decisions on the others in a timely manner.

And, some don'ts. Here are some don'ts to consider, taken from the annals of frustrated business owners I have known.

First, small companies should not succumb to every social fad that comes down the pike. If a company wants to be successful in the long run, it must apply the same discipline to its giving program that it does to other business strategies.

Next, companies should not make impossible reporting demands on recipients, who are as busy as their benefactors. On the other hand, businesses should require some accountability. Companies should negotiate a comfortable balance before signing the check.

Small companies can't compete with the big guys. By definition, large corporations have many more resources to bring to the problems they seek to address. That does not mean small companies can't be effective. It does mean they will need to find a niche and develop strategies, such as partnership development, to have an impact on issues they feel are important.

Finally, small company executives or owners should not allow charitable giving to become a yoke around their necks. While maintaining an effective program is serious business, the bottom line is that it should also be enjoyable and rewarding.

Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.

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