Now that the season of gratitude has returned, a few philosophical questions emerge regarding behavior and motivation. Is there a difference between giving and receiving when it comes to corporate philanthropy? Have sponsorships become nothing more than advertisements with a heart? Is giving better for business or society?
Philanthropy is defined as the act of donating time, products, services, money or effort to support a charitable cause with a focus on a well-defined objective. In shorthand, philanthropy is considered an intention to improve the human quality of life. However, in the marketplace, the real goal may be to improve the company's position in the community, which in turn, cultivates business. After all, philanthropy responds to the needs of the present as well as the future. That's why it's often referred to as advancement.
"Giving and giving back are two ways to look at corporate philanthropy," began Linda Arnold, founder and CEO of The Arnold Agency, whose Charleston-based company focuses on relationship marketing. "Some may posit that they're one and the same. To get the 'best return on your investment' may not necessarily mean the amount of news coverage you get for your generosity. Although, this could well be the icing on the cake, and deservedly so," she said.
The Council on Foundations explains on its Web site that philanthropic programs are an investment in both the longevity of the business and in the communities in which they operate. Labeled "enlightened self-interest", the foundation argues that community involvement is especially critical in today's competitive business environment, where no company can afford to be insular. As a result, corporate citizenship surveys reveal that the payback for philanthropic generosity is a more favorable public perception, and that equals profitability.
Sally Barton, Tamarack Foundation's Executive Director, believes gift acknowledgement should not be judged as corporate hypocrisy. From her perspective, nothing is inappropriate about companies competing for platinum-level sponsorships to ensure the highest level of exposure. If anything, a law firm's passion for involvement should be applauded.
"Recognition is simply a way that we can publicly thank our supporters and promote the opportunity for others to give. Often I have found our champions through these relationships, which have opened the doors to others," Barton remarked.
In fact, most requests for proposals require that two key pieces of information be provided to help searching companies make informed hiring decisions regarding legal counsel. Selection committees want to know how much money a firm commits to charitable causes and community support, and they want to learn more about a firm's diversity program, which may be connected to financial contributions. As one legal consultant explained in a blog, "…firms must advertise their involvement because clients want and need to know which lawyers are socially responsible and financially generous".
As many grant writers warn, businesses in general do not exist to give money away, so there is a different motivation for their participation. Business men and women donate resources of all types to influence, to strengthen, and to enhance situations that have a direct effect on their line of work and the clients or customers associated with it.
Of course, if a firm is truly concerned about the impressions of its financial involvement with any organization, lawyers could always try something many donors have practiced for years ... anonymous giving.
Brown is the managing member of The Write Word, LLC, a writing and editing agency in Charleston.