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My name is Samantha Walters and I am what you would consider a “millennial executive” over here at Colocation America. Every Monday (get it, get it, Samantha on Mondays – the S.O.M column) I will write a little something on whatever is on my mind from business practices to current events and everything else in between.
This week’s topic – creating a giving-back initiative within your business.
For some, choosing an occupation is as easy as looking at what your parents and grandparents did. In some families, everyone is a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. In my family, we are all about giving back to our community.
When I was just a wee-one in my mother’s stomach, my mother took a job with a little known nonprofit. This job would forever change her life, my family, and my future. Long story short, after I was born my mother became CEO of that little nonprofit and I spent many hours growing up going to community events, helping with fundraisers, and, perhaps my lease favorite, stuffing envelopes for donation letters. This socially conscious upbringing led me down a path that eventually resulted in me getting a Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship and Change (essentially, a degree in business for social good) from Pepperdine University.
At the same time I started pursuing my graduate degree, I started working at Colocation America. As I sat in class thinking of all the ways I could combat social issues, from political reform to nonprofit organizations, it occurred to me that I had a social-changing vehicle at my disposable in a form of a for-profit business, Colocation America.
Shortly after coming to the conclusion that I wanted—nah, needed–Colocation America to do some Social Corporate Responsibility (CSR), I set out to prove the benefits of why we should give back to the community.
Reasons to Start a Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative?
Here are the top five reasons:
Evidence #1: 82% of US consumers consider a company’s approach to social good when making a purchase.
Although this number fluctuates, it’s true – consumers want a company that gives back. Other studies have shown that when given an option of choosing a company that gives back versus one that doesn’t, consumers will choose the one that gives back! Plus, they are willing to pay a little more for it too.
Evidence #2: 90% of Americans are more likely to trust and stay loyal to companies that actively try to make a difference.
One of the hardest things to do in business is relay a sense of trust to potential clients. It’s simple, people want to trust the companies they give their money to. By doing some good, people are more likely to trust you – after all, bad people don’t do good things, right?
Evidence #3: 62% of people would prefer to work for a company that offers volunteer opportunities to their employees.
Ever wonder how to get better employees? One strategy is to start a volunteer program. Besides attracting new employees, current employees will benefit so will your company. It’s fact, employees that have an opportunity to volunteer are happy employees which means more productive employees. Even better, if you can show “impact,” employees are willing to take a pay cut! So give back and save.
Evidence #4: More PR opportunities in your community leads to more sales.
Ok so there is no statistics on this one (then again, as the joke goes, 74% of all statistics are made up, right?) but we know it’s true (and here is more evidence, too). When you partner or donate to an organization, event, and/or program, your name is spread everywhere! You are on all marketing materials (assuming the sponsorship level entitles this) and mentioned in all press as a “sponsor of the event.” If your CSR is done right, this press will hit your business’ target audience and/or geographical scope which means more potential clients. Need I say more?
Evidence 5: Save money even though you are “giving money away.”
Now this might sound crazy but listen up – giving back can save your corporation dollars. First off, when your CSR initiative benefits an IRS approved nonprofit, everything is tax deductible. Depending on how you set it up, you can write off up to 50% of your adjusted gross income when you incorporate charitable giving into your business model. Besides the tax savings, as stated above, you can save on employee pay (people will take a pay cut if your corporation gives back) and on PR (CSR is a major PR play for any company). Plus, save on medical considering volunteering is known for relieving stress – goodbye therapist, hello stuffing envelopes.
So you now have the “why” give back but “how” do you do it?
At Colocation America, we do a number of different CSR initiatives. To name a few: a little social contest where people voted for their favorite charity and that charity got free hosting for a year. We also found strategic partnerships that created learning opportunities with local nonprofits. Finally, we took our CSR initiatives to the next level by creating a STEM Grant which helped numerous programs all across the US. (Want to know more about what we do? Check it out here).
To sum it up, it all worked and has led to us to PR opportunities such as being in Forbes, a couple of local newspapers including LA Times, and online publications. Besides that, our traffic to our site and social engagement has increased! To top it off, the number of clients within the “education” sector (our main cause) has increased as well. And don’t forget, my team is happy to hear and spread the word about our CSRs creating happy employees!
How Do You Start a Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative?
Want to do it yourself? Here is what my $50K degree and years of CSR has taught me:
Tip #1: Designate some of your budget towards CSR.
This seems simple enough, right? Wrong! It is not always easy to convince the higher ups to dedicate funds to giving back but that is why you have the evidence pieces above! Beyond getting the “ok,” put it into the budget so that no one is confused when you go into their office and say “give me a $10K check for this organization.” As sad as this may seem, I suggest you put it in your “advertising” budget. This way, the higher ups know it’s a serious strategy (not a last minute thought) meant to increase branding, local engagement, and, overall, increase sales.
Tip #2: Pick a cause that fits your business (or the higher ups heart strings).
Just like any “marketing initiative,” you need to understand how a strategy reaches your target audience. Let’s use my example from another S.O.M article – let’s say you sell baby diapers. If I was you, I would make sure that my CSR initiative helps combat baby-related issues such as education, nutrition, and/or homelessness. At the end of the day, does your target audience have related feelings toward your cause/issue? If so, you are doing something right. For us as a tech company, I have tried to keep all of our causes “tech” related by giving to STEM education and Women in Technology, causes I know my target audience cares about.
On a quick note, another strategy is to choose the cause that matters the most to your executive team*. Although it may not be the best as a marketing initiative, it will get the executive team to care and take ownership of the CSR initiative resulting in more dollars and time dedicated to giving back.
Tip #3: Create strategic partnerships with nonprofits.
Just like with any business-related tactic, networking matters. Instead of donating to a nonprofit that is huge, think about creating a strategic partnership with a local nonprofit. Think of it this way, do you think you would get more PR from being 1 of a 1,000 donors or 1 or 5 donors? Of course, that is a narrow way of looking at it but I side with knowing who I am giving my hard earned dollars to. I, personally, want to sit down with the ED of the nonprofit and hear their thoughts and feelings – I want to feel connected to the organization and not just another donor. Plus, I have discovered that I can get more out of these fewer but more intense partnerships. Besides owning most of the PR juice that comes from being one of the few donors, I also get to influence the program/organization and make a deeper impact on the community.
One last thing – nonprofits are a small community. When you donate or create a bond with a nonprofit, they are more likely to spread the word about your company. Think about it? When they are sitting in a networking event and they mention the new amazing partnership they just formed with your company, other nonprofits will take notice and chances are look you up. Plus, people that work for nonprofits do still know people that work for for-profit companies and may mention your company and maybe that for-profit dude needs a server. BAM, a sale!
Tip #4: Think impact before donating.
I know it’s a bit harsh but CSR is a marketing strategy at its finest (again, kill me for saying this but it’s true). So before you donate, think of the impact your dollars can make towards the greater good. Now, I do not mean forget the little guys, instead, think larger. For example, if an organization is asking for $5K but they reach 20 students, think if that is the type of program you want to sponsor. Maybe, it’s the start of something larger or maybe it’s just too small – think long term. Perhaps the nonprofit does a great job of breaking down the donation. For example, $10 buys a week of classes for a student. If they don’t, I urge you to work with them to get this data. It is a lot easier of a Tweet to say, $5K bought 1000 lunches rather than I gave $5K to feed children. Plus, when you are asking for those dollars again impact matters.
Tip #5: Track your impact.
Ok, even I will admit that I need to do a better job of this. Essentially, like with any marketing, you need to track the impact of your CSR initiatives. Think about tracking the social engagements surrounding your CSR, the traffic to your site, and whatever stats you can gather that says “CSR is awesome and it works.” Especially when sponsoring an event, think of the amount of people that showed up, the press you gained (and how many people they reach), plus all the promotion to get people to the event. All of this has your company’s logo/name written all over it – talk about exposure!
Besides the marketing numbers, think of the impact of the CSR program itself (as stated above). How many people did you help? How many lunches did that donation buy? These are the numbers you can use for your next marketing material (remember, people buy from companies that give back). Plus, it will help you get further dollars from your company when they see the feel good numbers.
Hopefully this is enough information to get you started on your own corporate social responsibility initiative. If you have any questions, I’m here to help (seriously, this is my favorite part of my job so ask away, I would love to help: [email protected]).
*Another strategy not discussed in this is creating volunteer opportunities such as having your executive team join some nonprofit boards. This way, they represent your company with something positive while networking with other professionals. Personally, my board work is among my most valued time and I know others on my boards feel the same way.