Giving to charitable causes is big business. Corporate giving, according to Giving USA, totaled $17.77 billion in 2014, an increase of 13.7 percent over 2013. It’s a system of sound business practices that guides this flow of revenue, which, in many ways, holds the nonprofit sector under closer scrutiny than corporate America. Recently, allegations surfaced about overindulgent spending at the Wounded Warrior Project. In light of these accusations, how can a company ensure that its donated money will be responsibly spent on the programs it wants to support?
Here’s our six-step approach to make sure you find the organization that best aligns with your philanthropic goals.
1. Do the research.
Fiscal transparency is the underlying principle in nonprofit management. Websites such as CharityNavigator.com, Charitywatch.org and GuideStar.org provide an objective evaluation as to how efficiently an organization is using its contributed revenue to operate its programs. Professional organizations that serve a nonprofit community, such as trade associations or regional foundations, have a finger on the pulse of their constituent members and can offer valuable insight and research.
2. Seek a healthy balance.
The percent of the charity’s total expenses spent on programs and services is a key factor to examine. Top ratings usually go to those with the highest program-spending ratio. However, it is just as essential to analyze the effectiveness of an organization's internal spending. Everyone knows you must invest money to make money. A drastically low overhead could indicate undue stress on staff, infrastructure and operations. Determining how well a charity invests internally reveals its competitiveness, professionalism, excellence of service and vision to grow with the support of a company such as yours.
3. Be strategic.
Your company’s philanthropic mission should align with its overall business and its business goals. The inspiring traditions, culture and uniqueness of your company will best articulate the greater impact you want to make. If you are a staffing firm, consider giving to a charitable cause that helps people receive employment skills or higher education. Organizations such as the Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work® Foundation and Dress for Success provide college scholarships. But don’t get so caught up on your identity that you lose sight of your closest allies. Factor into the equation the concerns that matter most to your stakeholders, clients and employees.
4. Determine your overall goal.
Think about how broad of an impact you intend to create. Something close to home may be of primary concern or an issue of regional or national significance could be the focus. Identify what you expect in return for your charitable support. Determine what is of most value to you, whether it’s building brand awareness, expanding market reach, making key strategic contacts or simply giving back. Identify the benefits you expect, with the understanding that these deliverables ultimately translate to real costs for your beneficiary organization.
5. Examine measurable data.
The lifeblood of a charitable organization is its data. With the use of software such as Efforts to Outcomes®, social service nonprofits can record and track every client interaction. This enables charities to demonstrate measurable impact, foster a culture of transparency and ensure strict accountability to its funders.
6. Make a trial run.
Start with a project on a smaller scale, with a clear and finite scope. You might not need to open the deal with hard dollars. Charitable organizations also benefit from in-kind services, donated space, equipment use or employee volunteer hours. Observe how the organization operates. Compare the promised benefits to what’s really delivered. Evaluate how well your organizations work together as you consider moving the relationship forward.
Let Axia Public Relations guide your search. Our experts have helped dozens of companies build relationships with worthy causes to advance their missions. Contact us today and find out how to get the most impact from your philanthropic giving. Axia offers a free guide to gaining the most value from your PR firm. Download it to learn how the right PR agency can optimize your media coverage and ultimately grow your brand and increase your profits.
Paul R. Witkowski, MPA, is a communications professional acclaimed for delivering innovative and cost-effective results. With more than 20 years of PR experience, Paul is well-versed in developing effective relationships with business partners and communities.