BUSINESS

REDEFINING OFFICE CHARITY

Increasingly, giving at work means being a champion for a cause

CATHY GULLI February 18 2008
BUSINESS

REDEFINING OFFICE CHARITY

Increasingly, giving at work means being a champion for a cause

CATHY GULLI February 18 2008

REDEFINING OFFICE CHARITY

BUSINESS

Increasingly, giving at work means being a champion for a cause

CATHY GULLI

Prostates and business suits have almost nothing in common, except that most men have both. Therein lies the rationale for the Harry Rosen Spring RunOff, a race through the streets of Toronto and Vancouver to raise money for prostate cancer research. “We looked at our position as the foremost expert on men’s fashion,” says Larry Rosen, chief executive of the fine apparel dynasty (and son of the company namesake), “and here’s a cancer affecting men—what more appropriate fit could there have been than for us to take up this cause?” The goal, says Rosen, is to start a run in every market where the company has a store. On second thought, he adds, “Ultimately, we want to cure prostate cancer. Then we’ll find something else” to support.

It used to be that the way companies donated to charity was via the big, fat cheque, often printed on giant cardboard, and presented amid flashing camera bulbs and loud applause. But a comprehensive new survey of more than 2,000 Canadian companies with annual revenues exceeding $100,000 reveals that other philanthropic models are taking hold. For instance, employee volunteerism and “cause marketing”—the kind Harry Rosen is showcasing—are two innovative ways that businesses are giving back, says the report by Imagine Canada, an Ottawabased non-profit organization that promotes the charitable sector. “It’s not just about the cheque,” says president Georgina SteinskySchwartz, “it’s more about engagement.”

The examples go far beyond Harry Rosen, and run the gamut from modest start-ups to huge multinationals. RBC Royal Bank announced last autumn that it would make a $5 donation to the Nature Conservancy of Canada every time a client switches to e-statements from paper versions. The bank has also aligned with Montreal’s ONE DROP Foundation in support of global access to water. Similarly, Yoplait yogourt has raised money for breast cancer research. And M.A.C. Cosmetics has developed an entire line of makeup, Viva Glam, with sales helping to raise funds for AIDS.

All this is proof that a new “enlightened

view” of corporate philanthropy is taking shape, one that calls for a “deeper engagement with fewer non-profits,” says John Peloza, a professor of marketing at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. While the Imagine Canada report, entitled “Business Contributions to Canadian Communities,” indicates that just eight per cent of companies are teamed up with a charity for some form of cause marketing, it’s increasingly looked at as a worthwhile venture. Peloza says that the non-profit organization benefits by receiving a portion of the money collected. It also gets to tap into a company’s management, human resource and marketing expertise—often in short supply at cashstrapped charities.

Meanwhile, the company “is seen as committed and rolling up their sleeves,” says Peloza, and that is valuable to any brand. “If people think you’re a good organization, it’s going to reinforce their patronage,” says Rosen. And it may be the most cost-effective way for a company to contribute to the nonprofit sector. “When I give you a dollar of

cash it costs me a dollar,” says Kenneth Wong, professor of marketing at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. “When I give you a dollar’s worth of services, it costs me less.” But the perceived value may be higher depending on the charity’s needs and how well the partnership resonates with customers, he says.

Companies are also engaging in philanthropy that helps them connect to their own staff. The Imagine Canada report shows that almost half of all businesses, or 43 per cent, support employee volunteerism as a way of contributing to the non-profit sector. Among that group, more than three-quarters of companies adjust employee work schedules to allow them time to volunteer with a charity. And 47 per cent actually pay their staff to take time off for volunteering, while 57 per cent allow unpaid time off.

The Home Depot is a prime example of this type of corporate giving; hundreds of its employees, who often have various trade skills, regularly help build homes with Habitat for Humanity. Creating affordable housing connects the company to a community’s needs. And “building things is relevant to their audience and employees,” explains Peloza.

More than two-thirds of companies that support volunteerism allow their workers access to equipment and facilities for charitable activities—those hammers Home Depot sells come in handy. And when employees volunteer, 48 per cent of these businesses

Giving away cash is still the most common form of corporate philanthropy, but many firms are getting more directly involved

say they match those contributions.

This happens at EnCana, the Calgary-based oil and gas giant that sponsored the Imagine Canada report— almost $1 million was raised for various charities in 2007, says Mary Ann Blackman, manager of community investment. EnCana also has an October matching campaign: it made $3.5 million last year between the company and employees. And on Feb. 14, EnCana will launch a program to encourage family volunteering: for every charitable hour put in by each family member of a worker, it will make a cash donation.

“Companies are waking up to realize that this is what employees want,” says Peloza, who believes that promoting volunteerism can also serve as a smart way to attract or retain civic-minded staff. “People like to know that they work at a company that cares,” he says. It boosts morale around the workplace, adds Steinsky-Schwartz. And for business, volunteering can serve as development opportunity for staff; employees gain a broader social perspective, and learn a slew of skills that can be applied in the workplace.

Of course, even with the promises held by these sophisticated philanthropy models, the Imagine Canada report makes it clear that the traditional channel for corporate giving—the oversized cheque—has far from disappeared. Fully 76 per cent of businesses say they donate money to charity, which makes it the most common way of contributing to the non-profit sector among the corporate community. Make no mistake: “There’s still lots of big dollars going out the door,” says Steinsky-Schwartz.

Roughly, $31,402 for the average corporate donation, according to the report, or almost three per cent of a company’s yearly sales. (That sum also includes donated goods, services, sponsorship or cause marketing.) And it’s not just major corporate players doling out the mega-bucks. Large companies (with annual sales of $2 million or more) donate 40 per cent of the total value of support. But smaller businesses (with revenue between $100,000 and $499,999 a year) actually contribute 42 per cent. And they give more as a percentage of total sales.

Across the board, companies “are giving more than they ever have,” says Dani DeBoice, manager of corporate citizenship at First Cal-

gary Savings. It has developed a volunteer program with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but also makes direct money contributions to other groups. She says that while cause marketing and employee volunteerism offer significant benefits to charities, there are times when a gift of cold, hard cash is the best way to help out a financially strapped organization. This is especially true if a charity needs immediate assistance, or if a business is reluctant to commit to a long-term partnership with a non-profit. “There are times when it’s better to let the funds go [straight] to the charity,” says DeBoice.

The need for corporate support, says Wong, is swelling as municipal funding and assistance for social programs from other governments decrease. “Private citizens can’t get those dollars,” he explains, “so corporations are being asked to do this.” In Kingston, for example, there are five fundraising drives going on for various causes, including a city skating rink and the YMCA. So companies are also helping out by donating their products (51 per cent of businesses do), services (43 per cent), and by collecting money from customers or suppliers (22 per cent).

All this need, however, can create a backlash among companies. “Some businesses

feel that if they get involved in community investment, it lets the government off the hook,” explains DeBoice. While only nine per cent of businesses do not support the non-profit sector at all (or as measured by Imagine Canada), even among companies that donate there’s frustration: 79 per cent agree it’s difficult to respond to the rising number of requests for contributions. “Companies have expressed a degree of donor fatigue,” says Wong. “They’re always getting hit upon” for more support.

For those companies that do not contribute to charity, one of the big reasons cited (by 58 per cent of them) is that they don’t have a way of measuring the impact their money will have. Steinsky-Schwartz understands: “You want to know that you’re getting a return on investment when you put money into something,” she says. But with community investments “the returns aren’t always quantifiable.”

Then again, with 91 per cent of businesses reporting that they do, in fact, contribute to the non-profit sector, and 74 per cent saying they’d do so even without company benefits, it’s clear most companies acknowledge the importance of giving whatever they might—or might not—get back. “It’s a growing trend with businesses,” says DeBoice. “Corporations have values too.”

Rest assured, few businesses will suffer bad publicity for giving to charity. Even though it’s difficult to measure the benefits of corporate philanthropy, it’s equally tough to imagine it being anything less than “a positive thing,” says Rosen—both for the nonprofit organization and the business. “If it didn’t make any difference, no corporation would tell [the public] that they do it. They’d give anonymously,” he says.

“The reality is, we don’t” go unnamed, Rosen continues. “We think there’s value to what we’re doing.” Non-profits, it seems, aren’t the only beneficiaries of a little charity. Nl