By BRIAN BABCOCK
First published in the Globe and Mail, November 21, 2003
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Philanthropy is generally defined as "compassion for mankind."
In today's world, however, it's easy to interpret the word as simply
"to give money."
Most successful companies and individuals can -- and do -- write cheques
for charity. Cheques are good. You should keep them in the equation.
But the more profound challenge is to leave your world a better place.
How? Move away from the simplicity of public relations budgets and
take a serious look at where to and how to give. Make it personal --
for you, your executives, your staff, your customers and your communities.
Find opportunities that can lead to mutual gain for your community
and your company.
For example: Apple Computer donates computers to schools. The action
is benevolent, to be sure, but at the same time, introduces future customers
to the company's product.
But remember: Public relations campaigns constructed as thinly veiled
attempts to promote a corporate brand are simply advertising. The public
There's no shortage of opportunities to give to your community. But
if you expect your employees to get involved, it's important that they
work with you to identify community needs that are consistent with company
Create an employee committee to funnel ideas to the boardroom from
the community. After all, they live there and understand it.
Once you and your team have chosen your charities, get involved. For
- Volunteer yourself and ask your most innovative and strategic thinkers
to offer their expertise to the board of a community group. They can
help identify and clarify its goals and efficiencies. In turn, this
may attract other benefactors who think strategically about mutual
- Give employees paid time off to work on charitable events. Or find
a charity that needs physical support (Habitat for Humanity, for example)
and have a staff working day, led by you. The cost is negligible when
compared to the mutual benefit to the community and your corporation.
- Establish crisis response teams that can get involved, under the
direction of local authorities, in emergencies in the community, from
house fires to missing children to natural disasters.
It's not always a corporate effort that makes a difference. A leader's
personal acts of kindness can have a profound impact on both a community
and a corporation.
If your behaviour shows real concern for other people, you improve
your reputation as a trusted leader.
Similarly, personal but anonymous acts can elevate self-esteem, which
in turn affects the confidence you display as a leader. These implicitly
give value to shareholders, customers, employees and community.
The boss who's interested in doing the right things is distinguished
from one who simply does things right.
- Are you respected in your company and community because you're not
afraid to demonstrate your concern for others?
- Do you and your senior staff volunteer for community foundations,
community care, or for that matter, community anything? Are you and
they on the boards of not-for-profits of choice?
- Is your support of your community a public relations initiative
solely intended to elevate your brand, or is it rooted in a sincere
desire to make a difference?
- Does your corporate philanthropy meld the goals of corporate and
- Are your employees involved in where your company will give, or
is it the sole responsibility of your strategy team? If not, why not?
Corporations can put in place strategies that address the issue of
community responsibility while working to enhance shareholder value.
Leaders can lead with both their hearts and their heads. But if philanthropy
is a way to give purpose to our lives, then to leave the world a better
place is a powerful purpose indeed.
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