Giving back is on the rise. Last year, U.S. Businesses and Americans donated a record of more than $471 billion dollars to charitable organizations. Even more impressive than the nine zeros behind that dollar amount? The fact that this giving happened during COVID-19, when people may have been feeling more grinchy than giving. If that doesn’t reignite your hope in the human spirit, we don’t know what will!
Despite what you may see on the news, people care about the community: 77% of Americans believe charity can make a difference. And the focus on values and integrity is at an all-time high with 87% percent of consumers saying they’re more receptive to a brand’s messages if they know the company’s beliefs and values.
It seems that we have finally reached a point where profit and philanthropy are inextricably tied. When times are tough for businesses, it’s smart to bolster the most profitable arm of your business. And today, that’s via business philanthropy.
Aliyah Powell on Business Philanthropy
We know that giving does good. But does it do the greatest good—for both the community and for the company? This week, we asked Aliyah Powell, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Program Manager here at Iterable, for guidance.
Q&A with Aliyah Powell:
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself!
There’s a great quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which reads, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” He’s describing servant leadership, which means considering impact above all else and asking the right questions—not from your lens but from the lens of those who stand to benefit from your service. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is all about servant leadership.I’ve made it my career to advise and inspire businesses to approach CSR efforts with clear unbiased empathy and a receiver-centric mindset. There will always be something to learn but this work begins with an open mind and humility (which also happens to be one of Iterable’s core values).
From nonprofit to for-profit, individual to group, everyone and anyone is capable of making a difference. All they need is an empowering agent. That’s where I fit in!
2. What advice do you have for businesses interested in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?
Set a strong foundation before you begin. Start your journey with CSR by honing in on which values intrinsically compel your organization to be socially responsible and socially conscious. Once those values are identified, they must be emphatically lived at all levels of the business.
In Iterable’s case, giving and inclusion are embedded in the way that we do business. We make it our mission to support our teammates through difficult times, we match employee giving, we support small and minority-owned businesses and we volunteer our time to better our communities. We do this as a company, within our business units, and through our clubs and affinity groups.
3. Where does business philanthropy fit in?
Businesses talk about measurable inputs and outputs all the time. Think: KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Philanthropy is a measurable and meaningful way to engage and encourage output. In other words, we put our money where our mouth is. We don’t just set goals arbitrarily and aspirationally, we intentionally and purposefully pursue impact. We appreciate donating monetary resources as a means to help essential organizations operate but we strive to take that a step further by putting a face or a name to the giving.
4. How should brands approach business philanthropy?
With authenticity and impact in mind. Authenticity is the fuel behind philanthropy. You wouldn’t see McDonald’s launching a new toothbrush line, right? Or Apple investing in athleisure! The point is that the venture should provide meaningful value to the organization’s brand, customers, and employees. The same thinking goes for philanthropy. Organizations should seek alignment between their corporate mission and their philanthropic mission. It’s important that philanthropy is authentic and sustainable to maximize impact.
Does donating directly to a 501(c)3 make an impact? Sure. The donation certainly helps with operating costs. But to have the most impact, the investment needs to be high-touch and intentional, which is why it is important to do your research. Community based organizations that are run by the communities they represent are always in need of additional support. Do the necessary work to ensure that your contribution is going directly to where it is needed most. Don’t assume that just because an organization is the largest in a field that it is the best suited to your goals. And, finally (but perhaps most importantly), have open dialogue. Come from a place of humility and ask questions to ensure that your gift is culturally relevant, inclusive, and accessible. Don’t make assumptions. Always ask how you can help and respond accordingly. Remember, “everybody can be great because anyone can serve.”
5. How can brands orchestrate the greatest impact with their business philanthropy?
One of the best ways businesses can orchestrate major impact is by using their influence to create a ripple effect. This is not limited to philanthropy, it’s also inclusive of diversity, equity and inclusion and sustainability. Advocacy for intentional giving and thought leadership encourage others to step up. By modeling inclusive and intentional behaviors, we multiply our impact and set a new standard.
A great example of this orchestration in action is how we choose to make an impact at Iterable. We focus on giving to causes that are core to our community, and we lean on our Affinity Groups (internal advocacy groups) to guide and gut-check. For example, we have a large Veterans community at Iterable, and, for Veterans Day, we closed the fundraising gap for three Veterans families requesting help through the organization Operation Homefront. Our Mixed Identities Affinity Group guided our advocacy efforts during Native American Heritage Month. We’re actively using our social channels to advocate and educate as well. The point is, there are many ways to give. The important thing is to make sure it has meaning.
Giving gifts, or money, is the most obvious philanthropic language. But today, Aliyah challenges us to develop more unique approaches that go beyond money and materialism to make an impact. Business leaders: follow her advice and do business for good this holiday season.
This holiday, we’re focusing on celebrating the season, sustainability! Join us to reduce our collective carbon footprint and plant trees where they are needed most.