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Corporate Philanthropy: Start the new year with a new look at giving

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Creating a charitable giving program can be as simple as sitting down and writing out a list of what’s important to you.

As you reflect on the year past and the year to come, it’s common to begin to think about what you will do differently, even better in 2007. Like the personal fitness commitments we often make at the advent of a new year, now marks an opportunity for you to attend to the fitness of your business as well. One strategy that can move your organization toward well-rounded health is to start — or revamp — a corporate giving program.

As the end of the first decade of the new millennium approaches, philanthropy as a business strategy continues to hold a place of importance in shaping a company’s mission and values. According to the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, there are four principles that define corporate citizenship:

The five easy pieces of starting a giving program

1. Clarify your goals. Convene an internal committee to assess what your business hopes to accomplish by implementing a giving program. Goals may include support for an organization whose mission — such as education, the environment or health — aligns with your business and is important to your employees.

2. Identify tax benefits. Businesses can benefit from government tax incentives for charitable giving. In addition to your tax adviser, an organization such as the Oregon Community Foundation can advise you about the tax benefits of setting up a business or family foundation, as well as provide guidance on all aspects and choices for charitable giving to help maximize the success of your business’s philanthropic efforts.

3. Set a budget. Create a line item on your annual budget for the amount you will allocate to charitable giving. Once the annual donation amount is set, it can serve as a roadmap for how many worthy causes your business can support throughout the year.

4. Develop an internal process. Administration of the charitable giving function is important to overall program success. Before launching your program, determine logistics, such as how solicitations will be handled, frequency of donations, how donation history will be tracked and who will coordinate the actual contribution awards.

5. Establish clear criteria to evaluate requests. Because there are many worthy causes in every community, it can be difficult to choose where to give. By establishing criteria you can narrow the field of requests to those that best meet program objectives. Criteria can include: tax-exempt status, use of the donation, board size and activity level, and scope and importance of organization to the community.

Minimize harm:

Minimize the negative consequences of business activities and decisions on stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities, ecosystems, shareholders and suppliers. Examples include operating ethically, championing human rights, preventing environmental harm, treating employees responsibly and delivering safe, high-quality products.

Maximize benefit: Contribute to societal and economic well-being by investing for the benefit of the larger community, such as volunteering in the arenas of education, health care and family and youth development; ensuring stable employment; paying fair wages; and producing a product with social value.

Be accountable and responsive: Build relationships of trust and transparency. Create mechanisms to include the voice of stakeholders in governance, produce social reports assured by third parties, operate according to a code of conduct, and listen to and communicate with stakeholders.

Support strong financial results: The responsibility of a company to return a profit to shareholders must always be considered as part of its obligation to society.

In the same way that a business plan helps a company stay on a profitable course, a charitable giving program can help a business strengthen its position as a good corporate citizen and create an increased sense of satisfaction among employees.

Understandably though, the prospect of beginning a charitable giving program and choosing a worthy charity can be daunting.

Even if the economy has you worried, here are five simple steps your business can take to get a giving program started — or back on track.

Creating a charitable giving program can be as simple as sitting down and writing out a list of what’s important to you. Or it may take the form of a more organized series of meetings that include managers, employees or even customers. In any case, by setting a clear course up front, you can ensure a solid charitable giving program that will benefit your business and your community.

— Greg Chaillé, president,
Oregon Community Foundation; www.ocfl.org


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