Put a Premium on Charity

By Malcolm Fleschner

Remember when people used to try to get out of making charitable contributions by saying, "I gave at the office?" Today, in the era of good corporate citizenship when companies are often judged as much on their philanthropy as on their profitability, "giving at the office" has taken on a much greater meaning.

"Companies are beginning to understand that a poor record in the area of corporate citizenship, or even the perception of one, can impact their financial performance." So says Phil Rogers, vice president of The Robbins Company, a Massachusetts-based rewards and recognition organization, who was quoted in a recent article in Potentials Magazine.

The article offers three strategies for incorporating charitable activity into corporate efforts, particularly approaches that relate to the areas of incentives: donations, supporting social enterprise and volunteerism.

Charitable Donations

The big buzzword of late in corporate giving is undoubtedly "cause-related marketing." Cause-related marketing offers the benefit of tying a company’s charitable donations to positive consumer recognition and increased sales. Even the US Postal Service got in on the action by issuing a recent stamp to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

Companies looking to tie rewards to charitable donations have been working with providers like GiftCertificates.com, which last year launched a partnership with the American Red Cross to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. Under this program, recipients of the companies’ SuperCertificates were able to contribute a portion of or the entire value of their gift certificates to the American Red Cross. The program, and others like it, put the power of giving in the hands of recipients, while simultaneously demonstrating the organization’s commitment to offering a helping hand in the community.

Supporting Social Enterprise

For a solution that may be smaller or more local in scope, consider finding rewards that have been made by artisans, small businesses or social enterprises. Such rewards are also typically unique, as opposed to mass-produced products.

The Potentials article cites The Enterprising Kitchen (TEK), a Chicago-based social organization that provides paid employment and life-skills training to women facing challenging situations. Using the brand name "Choices," women participating in the effort produce specialty and spa products that are often used as corporate gifts by customers of Hinda Incentives.

"They produce beautiful things, so that’s extremely enticing, and we’re a company that really believes in being socially conscious whenever possible," says Lauren Pace, a graphics supervisor at the Eileen Fisher clothing store chain that recently used TEK products as an employee reward. "So if we’re going to purchase merchandise to use for gift-with-purchase items to give to our customers, why not make it meaningful?"


In terms of promoting employee involvement with the community, no company stands out more than Tom’s Of Maine. The natural personal-care product company actively encourages employees to spend 5 percent of their paid work time volunteering. The choice of which organization to volunteer for is left up to individual employees.

The only requirement, according to the company’s media relations manager Susan Dewhurst, is that "it needs to be something that connects you with the outside world, where you’re venturing out and you’re making connections and building community."

Tom Janenda, Tom’s Of Maine’s director of corporate communications, told Potentials that in addition to reflecting the company’s values and offering something back to the community, promoting volunteerism even helps the company find better employees down the road. "[For] just about every position that we post, we get amazingly qualified people," he says. "Beyond being technically excellent at what they do, they’re passionate, and that’s what really makes a difference. The people are personally passionate about trying to prove that you can be a leading, innovative, growing business with amazing, effective products."