by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Last month, we began to look at deciding what to give to – what your focus should be.  This is actually a lot tougher to determine than you might think.  How do you choose? 

In the last post, I outlined a number of ways to look at the question.  You can align your focus by products and services you offer, by your brand, because of your location or even your history.  But wait!  There’s more.  Before you make a decision, consider three more areas:

  • Your CEO or Leadership – This is a touchy but important one.  What does the founder, owner or CEO care about?  If you’re one of these people and you’re driving the change, then you’re ahead of the game (…and I’d encourage you to think about the point below, on employees).  If you aren’t, and you’re seeking buy in from those who made the giving decisions before, make sure you carefully inquire about what they think and if there are any areas of giving that are important to preserve.  You may have already hit on this in the history discussion as the two are often intertwined.
  • Employees – Who are your employees?  What are they like?  What do they care about?  What do they like?  Are they unique in any specific way?  Taking a look at the demographics, interests and experiences of your employees is important because it provides a perspective you might not have considered.  This doesn’t mean you’re asking your employees to tell you what to give to.  It means you’re looking at who they are and what they care about so that, which might lead you to considering certain kinds of nonprofits that otherwise might not make it into the discussion.
  • What you won’t give to – It might be obvious, but any discussion about what to support should include conversation about what NOT to support.  Are there certain types of nonprofits that aren’t in line with what you do or what you believe?  Does the company have policies against aligning its brand with political candidates, for example, or religious activity?  Or do you prefer not to give to multi-year campaigns or not to give products away?  All of this is important to know.

 Now, take a moment to jot down what you’ve figured out, using a chart like this: 

Category Nonprofits/Causes (ideas)
Products or Services  
Brand  
Location  
History  
CEO  
Employees  
What you won’t give to  

 

This exercise will leave you with a lot of ideas and different potential directions to take.  It won’t answer your question immediately, but it will help to narrow or orient the discussion.  With this information, you can better step through the options, considering which one is the right one for your business.  If possible, involve line employee as well as leadership in this process to help encourage buy in for the choice you make.  After all, you will want the team to embrace the decision and help champion the focus on behalf of your company, your brand.  You want them to be proud. 

Two final notes on selecting a giving focus.  First, you don’t have to be 100% absolute, never straying from your focus.  You can decide “what you give to as a business” in a public way and still privately support other organizations that are meaningful to you (like those you uncovered in the history of CEO discussion).  Corporate giving budgets usually contain a mix of programs that made it there for different reasons.  You may give to certain nonprofits because of history and others because you have an executive serving on the board.  The publicly stated giving focus should both convey a strong story about your support of the cause and should help the groups asking you for money to focus their requests.

Second, when you ultimately decide on your giving focus, be open that it is something you will revisit over time.  Although it is not a decision to rethink every year, it is appropriate to stop, at key points in a company’s growth and after key events, to reevaluate.  For example, your business outgrows its current building and moves across town to a new location, in a neighborhood with different needs.  What moves to the “history” category, and what’s new about how you want to give?  Maybe you merge with another company that has a different giving focus.  Which one do you keep or do you come up with a new approach altogether that fits who you will be in the future?  These are but two examples of why there can and should be room to change.

Rachel Hutchisson (@RachelHutchssn) is VP, Corporate Citizenship & Philanthropy at Blackbaud, Inc., a 2,700-person technology company that works exclusively with nonprofit organizations. She built the company’s “give back” function from the ground up, relying on expertise she gained in over two decades of working at the intersection of the business world and the nonprofit sector. Rachel is a member of the #GivingTuesday core advisory team, leads her company’s involvement in the Billion+Change pro-bono initiative, and serves on the boards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals International, The Giving Institute, and the Coastal Community Foundation. She is also a member of the core team that launched TEDxCharleston in 2013. She is a graduate of Dickinson College and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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