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How Giving Back Gives You an Advantage

Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community. – Andrew Carnegie

Corporate giving is nothing new. From Andrew Carnegie’s libraries to the Rockefeller Foundation, American business interests have embraced the impetus to “give back” since the Industrial Revolution. As a country, Americans believe it’s simply responsible.

But you don’t have to be a large or publically-held company to benefit from generous practices. In fact, according to the National Philanthropic Trust, the largest percentage of donations in 2013 came from individuals. It’s likely that many of these were small business owners, or high-net-worth CEOs of privately held companies.

Either way, charitable giving has increased significantly since the late 1990s, and although it’s taken a slight dip since the Great Recession, people and corporations still donate far more than they did 20 years ago. What is the reason for this? Clearly, giving money (and donating time) is beneficial to the giver, not just the charity. Let’s take a look at some of the top corporate donors and see how supporting their community pays off.

• Microsoft. Almost everyone thinks about charity when they hear the names Bill and Melinda Gates; the Microsoft founder and his family have donated billions of dollars toward education and global policy around the world, including the funding of important research and vaccines. So, it’s no surprise that Microsoft also has a charitable culture—one where nearly two-thirds of the employees (about 37,000 people) participated in the Employee Giving program last year, and 40 percent of those donated more than 60 hours of time.

• Walmart. For years, Walmart has been America’s largest corporate philanthropist. Its cornerstone is the Walmart VIP Program, in which the company donates $250 to a nonprofit (up to four times) when an employee volunteers at least 25 hours of time. As a company, Walmart’s annual donation budget often exceeds $1 billion, and if you look at their website, you’ll see that volunteering is a big part of employee culture, encouraged at both corporate and store levels.

• Apple. In November 2011, Apple introduced a Matching Gift Program of unparalleled proportions, stating it would match employees’ charitable gifts, dollar for dollar, up to 10,000 per person. Within a month, company contributions had exceeded $1 million. Furthermore, the initiative inspired other tech companies to up their game when it came to charity: Oracle, Cisco, SalesForce and others began to implement giving programs of their own. Apple has strongly promoted what it calls “Corporate Citizenship,” creating a culture where employees give back.

So, what can we learn from these three companies? You may notice that we’ve talked about all of them before—as examples of outstanding customer service. Does that have a direct tie to their culture of giving back? It seems like a logical conclusion to draw. When taking care of others is your company culture, this should extend to both customers and community members.

Second, you may have seen that these companies don’t just give money; they directly involve their employees. It’s easy for a huge corporation to write a check, but Microsoft and Walmart and Apple aren’t interested in stopping there. All three are deliberately creating a culture of community giving for their team members. And this, we propose, is why they’re successful.

Just think about the numbers alone. If Apple has 80,000 employees, they can donate more hours and dollars by encouraging those people to give with a Matching Gift Program. All three companies incentivize their people to donate and/or volunteer.

But here’s the really great benefit: a corporate culture of people who believe in “giving back” is a culture of people who believe in something bigger than themselves. No Apple employee thinks they’re just selling electronics—they believe they’re changing the world through innovation. At Microsoft headquarters, the focus isn’t head-down on an office building in Seattle—these people believe they are citizens of the world. And Walmart employees come together every morning with a chant, similar to “Your Turf, Our Lawn,” discussing how they can make people’s lives better.

From the nation’s top charitable companies, we can learn valuable lessons:

• Companies who incentivize giving create a charitable culture.
• Employees who give back believe in something bigger than themselves, and their job becomes a way to serve that vision.
• Team members feel part of a bigger community, and will band together at work.
• The need to serve communities is directly tied to serving the customer.

U.S. Lawns owners are some of the most philanthropic community leaders in any business. You all know it doesn’t take Bill Gates’s money to make a difference. Remember, individuals and private interests are still the number one givers to charity. And seeing you and your team supporting local causes will speak volumes to your community.

Improve your community. Improve your life.

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