“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Charles Dickens

Corporate giving is a year-round activity, but with the holidays upon us, it’s an apt time for all business owners and executives to reflect on their philanthropic efforts.

There are several ways for a company to act philanthropically, it can offer contributions to non-profits directly, fundraise on their behalf, match employee donations, begin a charitable foundation itself, provide free or reduced-fee services, volunteer its employees’ time, and many others. Most large corporations have outstanding corporate giving and community support programs: Google has given local non-profits in the San Francisco Bay Area over $60 million since 2012; Microsoft matches employee donations to charitable organizations, and has helped employees raise over $1 billion; and Deloitte has undertaken more than 1,000 pro bono projects, logging more than 340,000 hours towards these projects.

It’s important to point out that you need not be an industry giant like the above companies to support your community and make a difference in the world. Nearly all our clients, many regional leaders in their industries, such as PBA Land & Development, Wiegers Financial & Benefits, and Loraas Disposal Services, have incredible philanthropic efforts. We ourselves offered over 500 hours of sponsored consulting work to non-profits and entrepreneurs, and we’re but a team of 15. Even small companies and entrepreneurs can give back to their communities in a big way.

Why do companies do this? There are three main reasons companies give back:

  • Moral: Because they have a duty to do good
  • License to Operate: To gain permission from community to be in business
  • Reputation: To improve their image

Yes, two of those reasons appear less than altruistic, but giving is always a complicated combination of true altruism, personal gratification, and self-promotion. Giving can still be mainly altruistic, even though there are indirect rewards. Companies should not perform a pure cost-benefit analysis to factor in lost wages, gained publicity, tax-deductions, and goodwill, and so on before supporting a cause, because giving must be authentic. People will see through it otherwise. If a company gives the bare-minimum level of support and then craftily tries to promote itself, the public, partners, and employees will see through it. Make sure you are authentically trying to make a difference, and don’t be surprised or feel guilty if you benefit indirectly.

So, what are these indirect benefits?

  • Become more involved in the community
  • Form new connections and partnerships
  • Unify your team
  • Establish and solidify corporate culture
  • Improved employee morale
  • Make your community a better place to work and live
  • Earn the respect of your employees and clients
  • Publicity
  • That warm glow you get from giving

To make the biggest impact with corporate giving, companies must align it with their strategy, from an enterprise, human resources, and marketing perspective. You cannot just give a hand out to whoever asks or expect your staff to volunteer haphazardly. Determine which causes align with your brand and values, detail clear criteria for which ones you will support, plan for your staff and partners to fundraise or volunteer together, and infuse your communications with non-promotional messages about the causes you support and your actions to support them. Philanthropy that aligns with a company’s strategy is natural and authentic.

When your philanthropic initiatives are natural and authentic, it makes marketing them easy. You can share images and videos of your team at events; engage with causes you support on social media; hold a fundraiser in your name; or run a social media charity campaign to leverage your audience for good. Getting out in the community is its own form of marketing. If your culture is in-line with your brand, as it should, then your employees’ interactions at these events will promote what makes your company special.

So, whether you’re big or small, and whether you donate, volunteer, or campaign, give this season and all the others. You’ll do good and in doing good find you and your partners have done well.