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Be Charitable, and Your Customers May Just Give Back to You

February 3, 2014
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231165

The holidays always bring out the philanthropic side of people and companies, as they “adopt” families or volunteer to work in a food kitchen serving the homeless. But often times, the desire to give back is put away along with the decorations until next year. It shouldn't be.

In addition to making a social impact, when designed well, maintaining a philanthropic program beyond the holidays can offer immense pay offs in the way of employee engagement and customer loyalty. Here are four tips for incorporating philanthropy into your business model long term:

Related: The Power of Giving Back: How Community Involvement Can Boost Your Bottom Line

Align donations with your company’s ethos and products. It’s important to find a charity that is a natural fit and supports your company mission and philosophy.

For me, fighting global malnutrition, reaching those who don’t have access to a nutrient-dense diet or nutritional supplements has been a commitment to which I’ve not only dedicated myself, but also my vitamin and supplement company Rainbow Light. So, when the founder and president of Vitamin Angels -- an organization dedicated to helping at-risk children under five and pregnant women obtain the micronutrients that are essential to a child’s survival and ability to thrive -- approached Rainbow Light for supplement donations, there was no question that we would participate. In fact, we became a founding supporter and have remained in partnership with them for 20 years, donating more than 32 million supplements to the program to-date.

Institutionalize donations by tying them to sales. This serves as an ongoing benefit to the recipient organization, and as sales increase, so do donations. To ensure the best success with this method make sure you decide on corporate giving that is scalable. If you have a best-selling product, tie the program directly to monthly sales reporting and inventory management so that the donations happen automatically.

For my company, we learned early on that maternal health was an area of focus for Vitamin Angels, so we tied our donations to sales of our top prenatal multivitamins. Since then we have seen exponential increases in annual donations as sales continue to grow. And, Vitamin Angels has felt the effects too, as we recently learned our long-term support has been a key factor in helping them reach 30 million children in 2013.

Related: How to Run a Socially Responsible Business That's Not Phony

Create organizational continuity and efficiency. Build your donations directly into your business plan and forecasting to ensure continued progress and success, as you want it to become a part of your company’s DNA. As a founding supporter, Rainbow Light began contributing product donations from the start but wanted to develop a more meaningful way to make a difference. Therefore, we created a program with a structured commitment for a continuous supply of product that Vitamin Angels could count on to create a foundation for their work, while also making a big difference to some of those in greatest need.

Seek feedback from the recipient organization to spur continued inspiration. The best way to grow your corporate giving initiative is to obtain feedback from your charity partner. Finding out what worked and what didn’t will allow you to reevaluate the program goals and brainstorm ways to make the program more impactful.

In the early years of our program with Vitamin Angels, we received feedback from people working in the field about the “chubby babies” being born to women who had received Rainbow Light vitamins. Our donations were making a noticeable impact on healthy birth weights and infant and maternal survival rates in regions that were infrequently visited by healthcare providers. Around this time, we also received our first photo documenting one of these healthy babies. It inspired our first use of a Vitamin Angels photo in our corporate holiday card, which in turn, generated enthusiasm among our own employees and retail partners, leading to even greater sales and more donations.

Related: 3 Things to Consider Before Your Business Donates to Charity