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Extend corporate giving beyond the holidays

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 24, 2013 06:00 AM

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The holidays are upon us, a time of year when many corporations are looking to bolster their philanthropic activities with meaningful programs centered on the season. Philanthropic need does not have just one season, but the holidays present an opportunity to harness the giving spirit to spark a philanthropic strategy that lasts throughout the year. The challenge, however, is to carry that momentum into a year-round effort.

Leading up to Thanksgiving and the holidays, hunger and other basic human needs drive many campaigns. Clients approach us to develop high-impact programs that address a wide range of needs both here in the United States and abroad.

One such company is Ahold USA—the supermarket powerhouse whose brands include the familiar Stop & Shop. As a food retailer, fighting hunger is an integral part of their philanthropic message. Their leadership is particularly interested in supporting the food banks and hunger relief organizations that make the holiday season easier for those in need.

On the surface, it’s an obvious fit. But when it comes to crafting a meaningful philanthropic plan for a corporation, the linkage between business focus and philanthropic efforts is just a start. One of the first things we consider is how the giving goals of a corporation align with the deeper identity and culture of the business. When a program complements a company’s personality and business objectives, the synergies are visible to employees, customers and other outside stakeholders. Ahold is a prime example of this commitment to philanthropy that goes beyond writing checks to embracing that broader identity year-round.

In the case of Ahold, their 3-year $9 million Fighting Child Hunger initiative is the realization of that principle. Through this initiative, Ahold’s corporate foundation, Our Family Foundation, issues grants to 21 regional food banks in the company’s market areas (with special focus on their Stop & Shop and Giant Landover locations). We designed this program in partnership with Ahold to target communities with significant need, and expand efforts to provide healthy meals to children year-round through child care, after-school programs, mobile pantries and summer programs.

Ahold also leverages its community involvement by directly engaging their customers in the fight against child hunger. Their annual Food for Friends program invites shoppers to give $1, $3 or $5 at their local supermarket to help support hunger relief organizations throughout the Northeast. By making consumers a partner in the cause, Ahold doesn’t just raise more funding, it expands awareness of hunger into the broader community, and engages workers within the stores as frontline participants in the awareness campaign. They also encourage employees to participate in a “dollars for doers” program that matches employee volunteer time with small grants to food bank partners.

This type of sustained support of a program not only helps it continue to thrive, but also reinforces a corporation’s dedication to philanthropy in the eyes of employees and customers. In addition to helping others, these companies are fostering a sense of pride and connection with their brand, one that money alone can’t buy.

Developing that connection between a company, its customers and its workers is becoming increasingly important in a media landscape where more and more consumers are interacting directly with companies. The Internet and social media provide ready avenues for consumers to become advocates for brands they believe share their social and community goals—or critics when they don’t.

The opportunity to develop that reservoir of goodwill is an enticing side benefit of charitable campaigns. But to treat corporate giving as simply another arm of a good marketing strategy misses the mark. Taking philanthropy beyond the holidays not only provides so many of the vital support systems of our culture, but done well, it also engenders a philanthropic spirit internally among employees and publically among consumers all year long.

So as you approach your holiday corporate giving, think of it as a start to a broader effort that can lead to sustained impact. Holiday and end-of-year giving makes a difference – no doubt about that. But if you can think more broadly, connect your giving to the heart of your business culture and engage your employees and customers throughout the year - you will have an impact that resonates into each New Year and beyond. As we at The Philanthropic Initiative know from our own work with companies large and small, it’s not as easy as it sounds. But its value extends to both the bottom line and the communities in which we live.

Jamie Jaffee is managing partner at The Philanthropic Initiative, an independent business unit of The Boston Foundation, which provides strategic philanthropic consulting and services to corporate and foundation clients. She can be reached at jjaffee@tpi.org.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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