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Op-Ed: With (Corporate) Charity for All

Giving improves the quality of life in a community, and betters relations with employees and customers.
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 10:38 PM



Doing good deeds scores points in Heaven, and even companies can benefit from a Helping Hand once in a while.
Israeli companies need to give more charity and make it a regular habit. Build philanthropy into every business plan and not treat philanthropy as an afterthought.

Corporate giving builds name recognition, raises corporate profiles, brand awareness, good feelings, and image enhancement. Gifts are tax deductible, influence legislators and opinion makers. Giving improves the quality of life in a community, and betters relations with employees and customers.

Doing good deeds scores points in Heaven, and even companies can benefit from a Helping Hand once in a while.

Top management initiates corporate philanthropy for altruistic reasons and out of self-interest according to the Foundation Center.  Most popular means are grants, direct donations of money and branded premiums like clothing and pens, matching funds to employee donations, ads in NGO ad books, foundation support, and event sponsorships.

Beware, good intentions incur “bad” publicity when companies fund controversial organizations and causes. Department store J. C. Penny withstood pressures to fire a very popular, lesbian entertainer as Penny’s spokesperson taking a lot of flak. A corporate responsibility plan to anticipate and exorcise downsides is important, but remember no publicity is worse than bad publicity.

Business management expert Rick Moyers urges due diligence before associating with a charity. Vet charities with the same effort like buying other businesses or expanding into new markets. Engage recipients in conversation, and attend some events before making a commitment.  It is not disrespectful to ask pointed questions, for financial data, board member and employee background information, to research for controversy surrounding the issue and the organization, and for legal standing of the charity. Get feedback on the effectiveness of the charity in achieving its goals from employees at the charity

The generosity of corporations is best measured as a percentage of annual profits. US’s Kroger food stores gave up to nearly 11% of annual profits to charities. Most companies hover in the five to eight percent range including leaders Macy’s, Safeway, and Dow Chemical.

Corporate life in Israel is young but vibrant, pulsating with energy, and the core of a stable and growing economy. Dominated by Jewish people whose traditions value “tzedaka,” charity, it is disheartening that Israeli corporate contributions are modest. 

Maala is an umbrella organization of 130 of Israel’s largest companies promoting corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR).  They report a pattern closely paralleling the parsimony of American companies. 1.2% of profits is the average corporate philanthropic giving rate with most donating lower percentages.  Strauss gave NIS 10m and Osem nearly NIS 8m in one recent year, or 2% and 1.66% of their profits, respectively. Some include in-kind contributions of food from grocery chains (most likely valued at retail prices), rather than cash. Several value volunteer hours of their employees as donations.

Charities received NIS 5m (about $1.5m) when Waze sold out for nearly $1b.

This one-half of one percent contribution earned Waze praise for “spreading the wealth,” as one news headline screamed. Hardly, but it is tough to buy better press Ken Stern, former CEO of National Public Radio and author of With Charity for All, reveals corporate philanthropy is trending downwards in the US. He urges companies everywhere, “Making philanthropy effective is terribly difficult work, and no doubt some companies-maybe even some of the ones that seem stingy-do it better than others. But in the corporate world, as elsewhere, nothing speaks louder than dollars.” IBM credits their corporate giving with increasing employee engagement in community affairs; reducing employee turnover and skill development; strengthening customer relationships, and opening new markets. Their giving is good for others, good for them, and IBM is good at it.

 A small business might sponsor a local soccer team, a girls swim night, sponsor a marathon run for charity, cleanup a beach or riverbank, or sponsor an all-night learning session for learning program for students. Place the company logo everywhere.  Create opportunities for name recognition. The Nike swoosh is everywhere, and is the most successful example of brand building.

Keep in mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s blessing, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no person can sincerely try to help another without helping themselves.”