Corporate Philanthropy Is Good Business (Pat Lile Commentary)

by Pat Lile  on Monday, Jul. 3, 2006 12:00 am  

For the past five years, the Arkansas Community Foundation has partnered with Arkansas Business to honor businesses large and small in Arkansas that demonstrate leadership, financial commitment, encouragement and motivation of others through philanthropic and community involvement. The goal has been to acknowledge extraordinary corporate giving and encourage philanthropy among all companies in Arkansas.

But what we've discovered about business philanthropy in Arkansas goes beyond the scope of annual awards. We've found that businesses are contributing to charitable causes and building philanthropy in their communities through innovative programs that positively impact their bottom lines. Here are some examples from past award winners:

Arkat Nutrition Inc. of Dumas — a diversified animal feed manufacturer begun by 10 fish farmers in 1989 — increases corporate charitable giving by the same percentage as its profits. In 2004 Arkat giving increased by almost 27 percent over the 2003 level, which was a 19 percent increase over 2002.

The Little Rock law firm of Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard celebrated its 50th anniversary with a yearlong partnership it named Take Time to Give. The company encouraged its 150 employees to volunteer a minimum of 50 hours of community service, resulting in the donation of more than 8,250 hours of service to 10 statewide nonprofits.

First Security Bank of Clarksville's long-term commitment to the Forrester-Davis Development Center has meant more than 1,200 volunteer hours and thousands of dollars in support to this agency serving children and adults with disabilities.

The Totally Tooth exhibit at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock has been enjoyed by more than 50,000 children annually who learn about good oral health at this exhibit established and funded by Delta Dental Plan of Arkansas. The company also provides Teeth on the Go educational kits to every elementary school in the state.

Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield matches 100 percent of employee contributions to United Way and Easter Seals and contributes a 50 percent match to charitable walks and runs in which employees participate, with total corporate grants in the state of about $2 million per year.

Weyerhaeuser Co. Foundation has made grants of more than $1 million to Arkansas nonprofits in the past five years. The grants are reviewed by an advisory committee of employees that makes funding recommendations.

That's what some companies are doing for charitable causes, but what are these activities doing for the companies in return? Strategic philanthropic programs positively impact a company's bottom line in four major areas:

• Employee loyalty. Corporate philanthropy has a significant impact on employee retention and recruitment. Giveline reports that 72 percent of Americans want to work for companies that support charitable causes. U.S. workers who participate in and know about their company's philanthropy are about 50 percent more likely to stay at the company and recommend it as a good place to work, according to World Vision.

• Public perception. Companies who are fighting negative messages about their business can make a difference in their community through sustained, results-oriented philanthropy, which results in earned, positive word of mouth and media coverage.

• Investor concern. World Vision reports that six in 10 U.S. investors consider a company's commitment to charitable causes when they make an investment. Funds that are screened based on ethical and social concerns have increased 36 percent since 1999.

• Customer loyalty. Consumers believe that companies have a responsibility to support charitable causes. World Vision reports that eight in 10 U.S. consumers are likely to switch to a brand or retailer associated with philanthropy if the price and quality of the products are equal.

Nearly all U.S. companies — about 92 percent — participate in charitable giving because philanthropy is good business. To be a part of building business philanthropy in Arkansas, carefully consider how your company can do more — and take action. Ask the leaders of area nonprofits for their input. Then send in the results of your partnerships to the Arkansas Community Foundation when we call for entries for the 2006 Outstanding Corporate Philanthropy Awards.

(Pat Lile is president and CEO of the Arkansas Community Foundation in Little Rock.)



Please read our comments policy before commenting.