Corporate Giving: Beyond the Balance Sheet

Agency Principal Lou Simon delves into the societal and philanthropic obligations of businesses that go beyond profit.
by Lou Simon on December 12, 2023

When running a business, it can be all too easy to strictly focus on the bottom line from a financial standpoint. But what about the bottom line from a humanity perspective? And what are the obligations, if any, for companies to contribute to the welfare of others, in ways that fall outside of our core business offerings?

Many would argue that the sole role of a company is to contribute to our economy by generating profits and providing gainful employment. While that is indeed the primary function, it may also be equally true that engaging in philanthropic activities that fall outside the day-to-day operations of your company may have a multiplicative effect on those efforts.

Additionally, to those that have been given much, much is expected in return. My view is that since companies have significant power and enjoy many of the benefits as individuals do in our society, they share in the same responsibility. 

While I have no data as to the improved performance of a company that gives back, I do have an abundance of anecdotal evidence as well as a deeply held belief in this value - regardless of ROI. 

Countless times, I’ve heard friends say that they receive more than they give when volunteering in a food pantry or working a community garden. A heightened sense of purpose and shared camaraderie often result. This is true from a corporate perspective as well. I don’t have to look far to see the cultural impact from my team when they serve together or give their talents to a worthy cause. There is nothing like gathering for pizza on our rooftop after getting our hands dirty from a day doing good work.

Conversations between small business owners as to navigating how, when and where to engage on a corporate level are far less frequent than conversations on cash flow and maximizing EBITDA. So, below are some thought-starters on how to get engaged.

First, find something you believe in.

As a company, does it align to your corporate values and/or connect to your specialization in the marketplace? If you focus on healthcare perhaps you give to those that are uninsured. At S/M, since our agency focuses on home improvement, we support causes that help people who are unhoused.

If possible, take this one step further and integrate your philanthropic passions into your company positioning. At S/M we’ve recently updated our company mission to that end. We’ve committed to focus on home improvement brands that are sustainable in their manufacturing practices. Climate change is the hardest on the poor, so any work we can do to promote brands that lead in this space will lessen the impact of environmental changes brought about through bringing those goods to market.

Secondly, find an organization that needs the unique talents you have to offer.

Not-for-profits often don’t have the budgets that are required to execute their vision. However, your ability to give of time and talent can lift their efforts exponentially. A store designer creating a floorplan for a food pantry can help their operations run more smoothly and serve a greater number of clients.

Thirdly, make it easier for people to serve.

Tangible ways may include creating a committee focused on philanthropy; ours is called “How We Give.” This committee can help determine which partners you give to financially, and plan outings for group service.

Additionally, in support of individual efforts, consider offering service days for your staff that don’t count against their PTO.

Like most companies, we are reluctant to be loud and proud of the efforts we put forth. Personally, I appreciate the humility that accompanies a servant's heart. However, I’d encourage everyone to be more vocal about either their work in this space or desire to do so. Prioritizing and normalizing philanthropy for companies is an admirable goal – one which will hopefully make us a stronger community and make a dent in all that we’d like to see changed in our world.

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