Corporate philanthropy is about more than a company looking good. It even about more than feeling good for doing things that support a community. While businesses and their employees are working hard to consider how they might best support their community, it is a complex task for company leaders to consider what charitable cause or organisation they support, because the ramifications of making a poor choice can reflect badly on the business.
Many larger companies are choosing corporate partnerships with charitable organisations. The offering of time, resources, as well as money is extended to offering support that the business can have some form of control over. If a business chooses to extend scholarship programs to young people who are supported by the charity the business is in partnership with, this can be a very real win-win situation.
However, the downside to this is the legal frameworks. Understanding equal opportunity laws and how a program that is selective might affect the businesses ability to offer a scholarship is a minefield in some jurisdictions. Having an HR manager who really understands the details is vital to the success of any program.
When a business is seen supporting a charity it generates goodwill toward the company within the public sphere. If a business is seen as the major charitable sponsor of a fundraising event, such as a fun run for cancer treatment research, people who support the cause are going to develop a human connection with the businesses that have publicly announced their support for the cause.
However, this can also work against a public reputation if the charity comes under public scrutiny. An international charity that has recently been accused of covering up child abuse at the hands of its volunteers in some regions of the world has been scrambling to improve its image and distance itself from the allegations. This charitable organisation is a cooperation of more than 20 organisations with the same aid goals.
The scandal has damaged the organisation and the agencies that are linked with the international NGO. The scandal has put a floodlight on the issues around the aid system.
While individual businesses that are making contributions to agencies or organisations, in this case, have not come under public scrutiny, it is a sceptical public who only have time for headlines that will judge a business who supports an NGO that is in the media accused of covering heinous acts. In this case, businesses must be proactive in making choices to separate from a cause or choose to continue. Either way, it can become a PR nightmare if not handled well.
As a business, publicity is always difficult to manage. Companies that take the time to set a philanthropic agenda before making charitable commitments will be better able to navigate situations that are removed from their control.
While some businesses might want to appeal to staff and customers by having a comprehensive charitable works scheme, there is a growing public awareness of the issues about the aid system and the inherent power balance of such systems. It is wise to consider the values of the company, decide on an ethos and seek ways to give back to the community in ways that are genuine and in the control of those who are making a choice to become involved.
Smaller community projects, such as environmental programs or care for stray animals, tend not to receive as much negative attention as larger programs that aim to ‘end poverty’.
When developing a charitable giving program for your business, keep a close eye on the media environment and determine what issues you are willing to become involved with. If you believe your company can make real contributions toward ending workplace inequality, you had better ensure that your business and all your head employees are above reproach in this area. Otherwise, the public scepticism could cripple your business as investors and customers lose trust and all your best intentions fall down.
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