by Suzanne Duval d'Adrian
It’s that time of year again. We’re all preparing for that day in the not-so-distant future when we’ll sit down around a big table filled with (hopefully healthy) food and reflect on what we’re thankful for. Would anyone at your table find it surprising to be thankful for the ability to give back?
In fact, many of us are lucky enough that we are in the position to give back. It means that we, ourselves, have enough. So why shouldn’t we share our good fortune with others? Turns out, there are some significant benefits to being generous with our resources and our time — and the rewards can make a difference on an organizational level as well as on a personal one.
A Financial Advantage
If you’re like most business-owners, you’re getting ready to answer a familiar question around this time of year — “What charitable contributions have you made in 2013?” Your accountant or financial professional will want to know because certain tax benefits can be associated with monetary or other types of contributions to qualified charitable or non-profit organizations. You certainly don’t want to be looking back at him or her with a blank stare, do you?
Many larger corporations set a fantastic example for the rest of the business community through their cash contributions to charities around the globe. In 2012 alone, the top ten most generous corporations contributed over $2 billion, with Google giving away $144 million and Wells Fargo donating a staggering $316 million. Much of the cash comes from fundraising activities throughout the year.
The larger the organization, the more power it wields and with that power comes an immense responsibility to set a good example for the community but we can’t all afford to write that check for a few million dollars, can we? (It would be really nice if we could though.)
Increased Team Building and Morale
‘Giving back’ doesn’t just refer to donating cash. Some businesses pursue in a different kind of philanthropy — one that involves group participation and fosters an altruistic culture.
This approach supports high employee morale and a team mentality, both key to an organization’s success. Each team member works towards a common goal and when the event or project is completed, they look back and can proudly say “We did that — together!” It boosts camaraderie and fosters a collective, inspired and engaged spirit amongst the team, no matter how geographically close they may be.
I was really impressed to learn that international aluminum producer Alcoa sponsors an annual ‘Month of Service.’ Each October, employees around the globe support charities by contributing their time, energy and expertise as a local group to make a difference in their individual communities. The company then spotlights the projects on their website so everyone knows where their efforts have gone and to inspire other teams. Employees can see that they are contributing to making their world a better place, each in their own way. It’s a fantastic example of just one company who, despite their geographical dispersion, is making a difference.
Employees who participate in corporate ‘giving back’ programs are also more likely to feel fulfilled and happy, which translates into higher overall productivity. Truly a win-win.
The key to giving back is just making the decision to get involved in the first place — sometimes it’s easiest to start with your own local community.
Getting Involved in Your Community
As with anything, taking the first step can be the hardest. But, by engaging in charitable acts and supporting causes your organization believes in, you’ll realize increased and improved relationships with the community you serve. In general, customers feel good about buying from someone who’s making their world a better place. A 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research found that 82% of consumers consider social responsibility when deciding which products and services to ultimately purchase. Future employees and business partners want to be associated with someone who’s making a difference and being a positive force, too.
You don’t have to look far to find a great example of a company who’s involved and engaged in their own community. St. Louis-based Panera is a great example — the popular, health-conscious food chain offers a ‘pay what you can’ menu to help those who can ill-afford a meal at the restaurant. Referred to as a meal of shared responsibility, some patrons pay more than others for the Turkey Chili, based on what they can afford.
Most people have also heard about the good deeds of Tom’s shoes. Their ‘One For One’ program donates a pair of shoes to children in over 60 countries around the world for each one bought. As of June 2013, the company says they’ve given over 10 million pairs of shoes away, which means they’ve also sold over 10 million pairs. Amazing.
Burts Bees is another company who has made the pledge to volunteer in their community. In the past, they’ve partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build houses and with KaBoom to build environmentally friendly playgrounds for local neighborhoods. The company also operates the Greater Good Foundation, which is funded by a percentage of their sales and empowers non-profit initiatives that benefit natural health and well-being, environmental and social responsibility charities.
On a smaller scale, you might think about donating products or services, mentoring a group, sponsoring an event or even putting together a charitable drive to support someone or a group with a need.
A Personal Sense of Well-Being
Acts of kindness and charity impact our sense of well-being and how we, as individuals, feel. There’s no dispute that doing something nice for someone else makes you feel good, but growing evidence suggests that it can actually improve your physical health. In fact, a 2013 study by University of British Columbia researchers found that it might even be the heart-healthy thing to do.
Other studies have shown that giving back also lessens stress — the part of your brain associated with positive feelings is activated, releasing endorphins.
Have you ever been grouchy about something — that is, until you experience someone who’s facing larger issues than you are? If you’re like me, it makes you more grateful for what you’ve got and more willing to share your blessings.
Giving back isn’t just a good practice, it’s just the right thing to do. It reminds us of how lucky we truly are, especially in a world where we’re surrounded by others who are less fortunate. It’s a grounding experience that will, quite simply, just make you feel good.
If you’re searching for a place to make a donation, www.charitynavigator.org will give you fantastic insight into where your donation goes and how it’s actually used.