J. Denise Castonguay is the Executive Director and CEO of Canada Gives, a federally registered not-for-profit organization committed to helping philanthropists build and grow high-impact foundations. For more information, visit – www.canadagives.ca
They’ll wear a company’s t-shirts, eat its food, embrace its services, recommend its products and sing its graces if they think a brand is going above and beyond to make the world a better place. Sometimes a company is so big and so different and so seemingly monumental in its offering, that people simply want to buy whatever it is the company might be selling, whether it has a philanthropic bent or not. Apple comes to mind. But consumers will especially go out of their way to support the little business that makes a concerted effort to create positive change. Brands such as Tentree are a great example. The casual apparel maker founded an entire business on a simple concept: planting 10 trees for every piece of clothing it sells. Or how about Vancouver-based office supply store Mills Office Productivity? They turned community-based hiring, community support efforts and a focus on sustainability into a key value proposition in a highly-commoditized, highly competitive industry where it takes more than a little creativity to stand out. In another example, Toronto’s Endy Mattresses donates mattresses returned by customers before the end of their 100-day trial to furniture banks and women’s shelters across the country. It’s a simple solution to help those in need while diverting mattresses from landfills.
These Canadian SME success stories stand out because they not only walked the philanthropic walk but talked about their efforts. That’s right—they turned their giving strategy into a key brand component and then publicized the fact.
Turning corporate philanthropy into a marketing tool is perfectly acceptable if it’s done in an authentic, genuine and non-self aggrandizing way.
That means informing clients about what your organization is doing to support a particular cause or movement in factual terms, highlighting the stories of those who benefit from your acts of generosity—maybe even inviting them to donate—then letting the goodwill speak for itself. Suppliers, customers, and prospects will all take note.
And make no mistake, at a time when large corporations are working sustainability and community support mandates into their supplier requirements, a spotlight is being shone on the philanthropic work being carried out by smaller organizations. Doing good is no longer a nicety. Nowadays it’s an expectation. It’s important to remember that while making a one-time donation to a charity or non-profit is commendable and worth discussing, the companies noted above—and there are many more SMEs doing equally admirable work across this country—have all built giving into the core of their brand identity. They hire employees based on a desire and willingness to support key causes. Those employees, in turn, drive the organization to continue its great work, fuelling what becomes a perpetually virtuous cycle. Customers do business with brands like these not only because they provide great products and services, but so those clients can feel good knowing they’re doing more than simply consuming products. They get to do business with a company that cares and is taking steps to show it.
So, how do you effectively communicate your organization’s philanthropic efforts? A simple approach is best—perhaps a blog post, an e-newsletter, a podcast that talks about a successful fundraising drive or effort to help a local charity, for example. Maybe a quick email or even a note slipped into a shipment, letting the client know that their purchase is helping to support a specific charity or non-profit. If you are really committed, add a new page to your company website profiling the activities and organizations you’ve supported. It’s good for you and for the charitable organization. One thing is for sure: giving back adds an engaging, fulfilling aspect to entrepreneurialism that simply can’t be quantified. And if you’re doing it, you may as well talk about it. Added bonus: your employees and clients will, too.