5 Steps Towards Better Corporate Philanthropy

5 Steps to Developing a Successful Corporate Philanthropy Program

Through my work, working with firms looking to develop “CSR” programs in China, more often than not the conversations I have revolved around donating money. For many firms, even those experienced in philanthropy, China can be a difficult place. The groups who are able to accept 50,000+ USD are more likely to be GONGOs (Government Organized Non-Government Organization), which have a shaky reputation, and the issue driven grassroots organizations are often either too small, unlicensed, or cannot “prove” their value.

So, as part of my China Philanthropy 101 introduction, I will include the following 5 steps for developing a more a corporate philanthropy program with the deepest impact.. a program that starts with knowledge, involves a long term strategy and partnership, and leads to the deepest impact.

1. Move past awareness to knowledge
Having more than just the basic understanding of an issue is critical to the process of developing a successful program.  At the very minimum, donors need to understand the history of the problem, the players, existing programs, and what are considered the most successful models.  The idea is to have the greatest understanding of the problem, and where help is needed most, BEFORE engaging potential partners or deciding on the level of engagement.

2. Develop a clear strategy
For many firms who are looking for a program to participate in, the strategy can have roots in several places, the C suite, the PR Department, or the HR department, with each having different reasons/ angles for wanting the program.  Often developed with the firm in mind first, and how to either engage internally or externally, the strategy for developing a program can often leave the impact of the program diluted.

Thus to ensure that the program itself is given the best opportunity for the long term, and the impact to the partner is greatest, it is important to develop a strategy that balances the equation between the needs of the community (as identified through the knowledge building process) and of the firm (which should be focused on fomenting engagement and leveraging the capacity of the organization).

Once this is complete, then the firm can begin understanding how best insert itself, and through which partners

3. Identify and work with partners who are naturally aligned with the strategy
Finding the right partner is perhaps the most critical step, and will only work if one’s understanding of the issue and one’s strategy are clear.  In China, there are a large number of good organizations.  Organizations that have the capacity to do anything, given the right budget

As such, it is critical donors spend the time to not just research their potential partners, but to have a framework by which to judge the organization, and to support this framework with a process that ensures engagement between the partner and the donor.

4. Look beyond donations.  Create Deeper Engagements
For most organizations in China, regardless of what may be said, money is not the only issue they face.  For many, it is actually the least of their concerns, as issues of scale, human resource management, and program development are impede the growth of the organization.

For donors, this is one of the greatest opportunities to create a lasting, and successful engagement, but it is often one of the least developed opportunities.  Servicing on the board, mentoring leaders, offering administrative support, and supporting other capacity developing activities can (and will) magnify the long term impact of the funds.

5. Stop trying to compete.  Engage.
Corporate philanthropy is not a game to be won, and the best measure of success is not the number of trophies a firm has in its trophy case. All too often, firms get wrapped up in the process of applying for awards (internally and externally) or looking for the sound bit that will round out their CSR report without realizing that the negative impacts to the program.  That, in being focused by an external stimulus, firms are virtually guaranteeing that their commitment will be short lived and unlikely to be re-upped (even if successful).  Programs will always need to be bigger and better, and therefore program stability cannot be maintained.

What firms should be doing is building engagements that have true alignment to the issues, interests, and capabilities of the firm (and its employees), and in a way that can build depth over time. Ultimately, it is through this process, and being apart of a program (or organization) that grows that will provide the best measure of success.

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