From the Collective

Any Company Can Make Giving Back a Part of its Culture. Here's How.

Ebony Beckwith

Companies everywhere have seen the benefits of integrating philanthropy into their business models – and for good reason. Cultures that give back are linked to higher levels of employee happiness, collaboration, and innovation, all of which are great for business. Another benefit? Values-based organizations stand the test of time. Recent data suggests these organizations are more resilient and built to withstand crises like pandemics, disasters, social unrest, and more – because in challenging times their values keep them anchored.

In the early days of philanthropy, social impact was kept separate from business practices. Today, there’s a more powerful model of philanthropy built on the belief that the business of business is to improve the state of the world. The two are interconnected; business today is about going beyond the paycheck and getting behind those social issues via technology, time, and money. 

Some leaders believe philanthropy is akin to frosting on a cake – a nice-to-have or once-a-year kind of thing. But that’s not enough. It’s a new business imperative to build giving back right into your corporate playbook. For those just getting started, here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you make_ giving back_ part of your company’s culture. 

Q1: Where should you start? 
Companies of every size can create measurable impact. In fact, our founders built giving back into Salesforce’s DNA before they even had anything to give. My suggestion is to start, as they did, with employee time. It’s the easiest resource to give – but keep in mind that this also means you have to give your employees the permission to take the time to volunteer. 

It’s likely that your employees are already involved in giving back; perhaps they help with a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop, volunteer at their church, or organize drives and fundraisers. Think about how you can encourage those activities and integrate them into your culture. There are also some amazing organizations, like Pledge 1%, that offer tools and resources to help you create a structure and dedicated program, whether you want to give time, resources, equity, or something else. 

Q2: What’s your long-term plan? 
One of the biggest pitfalls I’ve noticed is when companies don’t commit for the long haul. Our CEO Marc Benioff talks about overestimating what you can achieve in one year, and underestimating what you can achieve in 10 years. For instance, when we made our commitments 20 years ago, it was hard to imagine a time where we’d donate 5 million volunteer hours or $400 million in grants like we have today. 

Another common mistake is “peanut buttering” across too many focus areas, or spreading yourself too thin. At Salesforce, we like to say if you focus on everything, you focus on nothing. Building a long-term plan can help you maintain your focus and measure results. 

Q3: Is the leadership team truly bought in? 
A commitment to philanthropy must start at the top. Having a CEO and leadership team involved helps to shape the program, while the employees are the ones who make it grow. I’m grateful to work for a CEO who’s really passionate about giving back, and this trickles down to the rest of the company.
When employees see the leadership team make philanthropy a priority, they’re empowered and encouraged to do the same. You’ll see greater outcomes and stronger engagement if this behavior is being modeled at the highest level. 

Q4: How will you measure success?
Create focus. I suggest starting with one or two important areas, and then working backwards from there. What results do you want to see? Maybe you’ll start by tracking employee volunteer hours or dollars donated. Taking a data-driven approach increases your impact and garners greater participation with your employees because they’re sharing the goals and the success with you. 

Once you get past those initial metrics, you’ll want to think about impact: What do you want to achieve? What’s important to your company and the legacy you want to leave behind? 

Q5: Who will manage these efforts? 
I’m often asked at what point should companies consider making a full-time hire to support philanthropy. While companies may be able to get started by having a team of employees oversee the function, creating a role and providing dedicated resources signals, both internally and externally, that it’s a priority to the company. 

That creates a ripple effect – people will want to work at your company because they can see the dedication to giving back.

Impact is everyone’s job.

Philanthropy is not a competitive sport. There are no losers! I’ve been so inspired seeing companies come together around a shared goal and driving a double ROI – a return on investment AND impact. I’d love to hear your questions and experiences in building philanthropy and giving back into your company’s culture. You can find me on Twitter at @EbonyBeckwith

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