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CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

The Selfish Side of Philanthropy

You can create a win-win for your company and the community. Here are five tips for being a worthy benefactor.

We are all inspired these days by the increasing number of entrepreneurs and companies who have integrated societal giving with their business models. It's easy to feel good about giving shoes, glasses or food to the underprivileged in an automatic process that requires no effort or thought.

Of course my cynical nature can't help but question the motives of the growing number of new companies that may be implementing aspects of social entrepreneurship just to get that edge in the marketing world. On the other hand, why not? If profiteers are motivated to do legitimate good for selfish reasons, at least the world benefits. But what if your organization has no relationship with something charitable or socially responsible? Does that leave you branded as a self-centered heathen? Don't worry, you can still benefit your community in ways that will grow your business and earn you respect. Here are five tips to get you started.

1.  Pick Your Causes Carefully

Not every charity or community need is a fit for your business. Figure out what you can support in a way that is meaningful for all involved. Pick only one or two organizations and go deep so you can have impact, rather than scattering your efforts in a way that goes unnoticed. Make sure the ideals of the philanthropy resonate with your product and core values. Get input from every corner of your organization so they feel they had a voice in the decision.

2. Create Common Exponential Benefit

Anyone can donate money and everyone should, but if you are going to involve your brand and your people in a cause, you should figure out a way to make a difference worthy of your stature. Small or large, you are an institution with resources that can make things and/or generate activity. Identify your strengths and core competencies whether in marketing, servicing, or manufacturing and apply those skills to help your beneficiary accomplish goals they could not with just financial support. Be creative! Let your efforts shine brightly as a testament to how only your company could have made these amazing things happen. Anything less, and you may as well just write a check for the cause.

3. Make a Solid Commitment

Often management will tentatively get involved with a cause and within about a year, it becomes a low priority that provides little benefit for either party. If you are going to do something, don't toe-dip, dive in. Apportion resources from the company. Make sure the cause is integrated into your culture so your people know how they can take action and why it's important. Establish long-term commitments of money, brains and labor tied to specific strategic goals that benefit both organizations.

4. Physically Engage

It's not enough to promote the cause and raise money. Every member of the company should have some role to play in the development and execution of this partnership. People from your company should interact with the board, volunteer services and be involved socially with the cause. The more personal your personnel get in their engagement, the more synergy will happen over time. Not to mention the loyalty your employees will feel for a company that is so physically integrated with a worthy endeavor.

5. Try Worthy-cause Marketing

You have probably heard of Barefoot Wine. It's the No. 1 selling wine brand in the country. It got that way by building a community of supporters through a series of cause-related promotions. From the very beginning founders Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey supported causes they cared about while building a loyal following through combined promotion. They made Barefoot wine a brand that connected with zealously passionate people, driving sales to No. 1 without conventional advertising. You can learn their time-tested philanthropic techniques in their new book The Barefoot Spirit. Get a free sample tasting here.

All in all, it's possible you may not be considered the most altruistic soul if you're exploiting a charitable cause to grow your business, but as long as you're truthful, transparent, and both organizations truly benefit, who's to complain?

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Last updated: Nov 30, 2012

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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