Corporate brand is not just about what you do, it’s about who you are as an organization. I’ve talked before about how that brand has become a key to attracting and keeping your workforce. One of the crucial components to a company’s brand centers on the choices it makes in the world of philanthropy. It’s not just a question of sharing wealth in a responsible way, but about choosing those with whom you share it in a way that reflects the values held by your company and its employees.
To this point, strategic philanthropy must be in the DNA of a business and should go hand-in-hand with the business model. This is very different from the traditional method in which corporate giving has been conducted through separate foundations alone. When you’re a large company that services hundreds of diverse clients with diverse causes and missions in their communities, along with hundreds of suppliers and clients with their own interests, and employees with even more interests, you can’t be everything to everybody but you can’t rule out what they care about. This is true even though there might not be a brand upside to it. It’s a constant challenge for a business.
For me, the concept of a bottom-up driven plan that is closely associated with the brand is really the key to be truly strategic in terms of philanthropy. This means driving employee engagement by finding a way to materially recognize the spread out nature of the different passions and causes they represent – then finding common denominators. A company often does this type of engagement very silently, but it doesn’t have to be that way. To instead do it in a more overt manner with openness and transparency, that’s when you can have substantial impact on both your community and your brand. Through this process, you bring clarity to your mission. If every one of your employees can answer the question “what does your company stand for” with a unified answer, then you’ve succeeded.
If you’re a company that’s decided to pick three causes, then pick three. It can’t be twenty and it doesn’t have to be one. And this strategy doesn’t mean you ignore the smaller requests. My mailbox is always full of worthy causes – clients who ask for various donations and contributions or for a speech at an event and of course we absolutely say yes to those, but they fall outside the definition of a strategic philanthropic plan.
Foundations with their big donors and important alumni do still have a crucial role. If your philanthropy-in-the DNA model is successful, then it only makes those foundations even more powerful. It doesn’t have to be one model or the other. For a lot of foundations it might feel like they are on an island; it might feel like they are disconnected – like they are wonderful well intentioned people who have no idea what’s going on in the day to day business. Connecting the two is where the power is.
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George Chavel is CEO of Sodexo North America (U.S. and Canada) and CEO Sodexo Healthcare Worldwide. He has announced that he will retire at the end of this calendar year after more than two decades at Sodexo.