From whales and trees, to elephants and the ozone layer, from the poor, the starving, and diseased, to those afflicted by disasters, every day, we are confronted with a multitude of causes, all competing for our money, our time, and our support.
Mark Twain, a nineteenth century American writer, once mused, “What do you call love, hate, charity, revenge, humanity, magnanimity, forgiveness? Different results of the one master impulse: the necessity of securing one's self-approval”.This rather cynical view is confirmed when you appreciate the fact that rather than focussing on the cause, most of the ‘sales pitches’ received from charities nowadays seem to focus on what YOU can get back from your involvement, and whether its ‘spin’, ‘brand association’, or inclusion in some glossy brochure, there is always a way they can persuade you that your receiving an excellent ROI (return on investment) for your participation.
While one has to always consider the economic facts of business, and the simple reality that very few have the resource to be truly ‘philanthropists’, I’m disturbed by the fact that the balance of ‘PR versus Cause’ has changed, meaning the focus is now on ‘What can I get back?’ and less ‘This is a great cause and if we can get something back, so much the better’.
It’s no secret that charitable associations can be leveraged by business to promote a good impression, and provide a nice ‘fluffy’ enclosure to the corporate world. Public companies have been doing it for sometime, often under the guise of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). A quick look at the annual reports of any major firm will reveal a variety of relevant causes being supported, promoted.
Call me a cynic, but planting trees and soaping-down-an-albatross isn’t going to make oil extraction any less damaging to the environment… and building a couple of schools in remote African villages surely isn’t going to stop the thousands of people exploited by the diamond industry worldwide?
Many will, in this sense, remember a comment Henry Ford made, "Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty."
Then, on the flipside, you have the ‘fire and forget’ approach, which many small businesses are party to, where, a simple process is followed…..
1. Charitable request received
2. Business owner notified
3. Cheque posted
4. Warm-Fuzzy-Feeling attained (usually short-lived)
NOTE: This warm-fuzzy-feeling is often combined with the sudden need to inform all and sundry that you are now the sort of person who Selflessly, and altruistically supports the well-being of
Great!!! Or is it??
While cold-hard-cash is an essential part of the charity phenomenon, often, the products, services and contacts of your firm could provide even more benefit! For example, you could mailshot your database to raise funds, perhaps your company could provide accounting, or design services? Or provide products/services as an incentive for the charity’s other donors?
HOWEVER, if cold hard cash IS the best option for you, remember that the friendly folks in Westminster have created numerous ‘vehicles of giving’ making your donations more ‘efficient’ (ie: the charity gets more bang for your buck). These vehicles include…. Multi-funds, trusts, gift-aid, relief funds, incentives, and more! It’s often advisable to talk to your own accountants and advisors who (for a fee) will tell you what the most efficient way is to operate. A few firms I work with, for example, have set up their own charitable director’s trusts, allowing gifts to be made, annually, to charities, from the gains of the trust, without affecting the principal amount. On smaller scales, businesses may be able to even select a charity, and using gift-aid, provide a means for their employees to donate.
Something is, though, missing…
Jack London, one of the most influential American writers of the twentieth century, once said, “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”
Aside from being a somewhat poignant statement, if you read into it a bit more, you can see, clearly, that acts of kindness like that can only be performed with resource (the bone) and PASSION ABOUT THE CAUSE (the urge to share your own resource, even when you could utilise yourself).
This passion is, unfortunately, something which – nowadays – is missing from charitable engagements. I rarely see business owners, or those involved in charity through business, truly engaged by the causes they support, or truly enthusiastic about them. Given the resources businesses have at their disposal, from money, to contacts, to employees, and more – this is rather sad.
In the rare situations where businesses are passionate, however, the results are often spectacular, with the drive being disseminated throughout the firm, raising the interest, motivation and support of employees, stakeholders, partners, suppliers, and even customers – meaning that some tiny businesses are able to raise thousands of pounds, and have a real sense of achievement throughout their organizations, whereas many larger firms, to whom charity is a ‘pass the bucket around the call-centre’ affair, seem to raise less in donations than they spend on tippex™ in an average month….
Charity shouldn’t just be the prevail of bored Cheshire housewives at their weekly round-table meetings it should be something we all do, and do with some consideration!
So, please, don’t forget charities – the world is a pretty needy place nowadays, and from conservation, to humanitarian and social causes, there are many people out there noble enough to do something about it – they deserve our support, and who better than businesses to give it.
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