5 tips for tapping the power of corporate giving

This article is the second in a two-part series on corporate giving. Learn about why giving creates organizational health and happiness in the first article, Why organizations should get serious about giving.

Individuals often underestimate the importance of giving to their personal health and wellbeing. So too with organizations. In many organizations today, corporate giving is neither a stated nor naturally occurring cultural value. And where it does occur, seldom is it practiced purposefully enough to bring a significant impact.

The reasons for this gap vary, as do the solutions. Whatever the size and shape of your organization, here are five ways to make corporate giving work for you.

1. Practice joyful generosity.

In our work with organizations, we have found that giving is most powerful when it is done with commitment, intentionality, and discipline. In particular, it must be undertaken fully to the degree necessary to produce feelings of generosity and joy for the giver. This emotional threshold is a kind of tipping point, which we call “joyful generosity.” Anything less and participants may feel not only silly but cynical.

In particular, avoid the mistake of grand public relations gestures that amount to mandatory, large scale dabbling. Instead, take small but sure steps to support passionate people in doing noteworthy good, then grow your efforts to include more people based on their authentic desire to participate. The same patterns holds true for charitable giving: start small and grow your efforts in step with results.

2. Invest in volunteering, charitable giving, and celebrations of success.

Corporate giving activities are sometimes seen as feel-good distractions—an opiate for employees—tolerated with a condescending nod, but not championed at a leadership level. But business leaders do well to take organized volunteering and charitable activities seriously, because organizations that practice joyful generosity enjoy the same benefits as individuals who give: greater happiness and health.

Think about investing in these three areas: sponsored volunteer efforts (especially ones that include not only employees but families, customers, or community members); charitable giving (aligned whenever possible with the purpose or mission of the organization); and celebrations of success—the success of customers or host communities.

3. Cultivate a culture of caring for customers.

An effective culture of giving is more than window dressing; it permeates an organization’s day-to-day business. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way an organization thinks about customers. After all, customers are the foremost recipients of the good an organization does. No amount of discretionary giving can counteract a “taking” attitude toward customers.

A customer of an auto shop overheard a service representative talking about him to a colleague as he, the customer, stood by. The representative asked, “Did he go for the up-sell?” In that moment, any confidence that the recommended work was in his best interest evaporated from the customer's mind.

Most problematic is a blunt emphasis on profitability, which can backfire when it interferes with the sincere service orientation that makes for satisfied customers. It is impossible for employees to achieve sustainable peak performance without caring authentically for the well-being and interests of customers. This principle applies as much to employees in support roles as it does to front-line service or sales people, because attitudes are contagious.

Employees who do not care about customers will fail to understand their needs and desires, leading to lost business opportunities. And like parents whose children embarrass them by imitating them in public, leaders who talk about and treat customers like fish on the line will discover that their employees will inevitably do the same, only with less finesse.

4. Craft a business model where doing the job is an act of giving.

Managers sometimes fear that an employee who is taught to care for the customer’s interests won’t push hard enough for a sale.

But this behavior is caused not by too much customer caring on the part of the employee, but by too little on the part of management. Employees make compromises on their customers’ behalf because they know that following their training is sometimes, seldom, or even never in the best interest of the customer.

The best approach is to create a value proposition that harbors no deception, then train employees to believe in it and do all they can to make it available to customers.

5. Learn to value value above all.

No matter the size, structure, or tax status of an organization, it exists to create value. And being in tune and in sync with what value an organization creates (and why and how) has more impact on an employee’s performance, sense of purpose, and job satisfaction than any other factor.

Crucially, the definition of value must go beyond monetary gains—because all business is an exchange, and it is impossible to sustain a healthy “get” without an equal and opposite “give.” Organizations that allows their get and their give to get out of balance can and likely will eventually suffer from every known organizational dysfunction.

All organizations—large and small, nonprofit and for-profit—understand the value of revenue. But the happiest, healthiest organizations also know how to give.


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