Home Month and Year December 2023 The Win-Win of Giving Back

The Win-Win of Giving Back

Corporate philanthropy is more important than ever


In Calgary, corporate philanthropy continues as a positive and is more important than ever. Corporate giving, AKA “giving back,” is the corporate focus of businesses donating money, resources or time – or all three – to charitable causes.

It has become widely accepted as a win-win for the community and for the business.

While the primary focus of corporate giving is a company’s commitment and social responsibility, affecting people and the quality of life in their communities, corporate philanthropy is also a proven business-positive, with numerous benefits including improved employee morale, increased brand reputation and a solid way to positively create community impact.

In Calgary, and in business at-large, corporate giving can take on many forms. Financial donations, in-kind donations and employee volunteer programs. Financial donations are often made to a variety of organizations, such as non-profits, educational institutions and cultural organizations. In-kind donations provide goods or services.

Employee volunteer programs are effective ways for businesses to give back by encouraging employees to use their skills and talents to support charitable causes. Empowering employees helps make the company team feel like they are making a difference, and it generates higher morale, camaraderie and respect.

The win-win of corporate philanthropy includes networking, because most philanthropic organizations have business leaders on the board, for forming bonds.

For many businesses that succeed by growing its customer base, local charities are not just wonderful outlets for support, but a good way to build reputation, brand and sales. A recent Canadian business survey underscored that an overwhelming majority of Canadian consumers said they would choose a brand that supports a cause or a charity over one that does not.

To be blunt (not crass), business stats suggest that corporate giving can also be a boost for the company’s bottom line. Consumers are more likely to do business with companies that have a reputation for social responsibility and charitable giving.

And the most glaring but important business intangible: it’s just the right thing to do! Making a difference in the lives of others and adding good into the community.

With philanthropy, as with other operations aspects, whether it’s the strategizing and the action plans, business is business, and the jury’s undecided on the tangible, and intangible, ways to adequately measure ROI on corporate philanthropy.

“Even though it is not always necessary to ensure that there is a return on philanthropy, a corporation’s donations should be strategic and logical,” emphasizes the experienced Irene Herremans, professor emerita accounting at Haskayne School of Business. “Perhaps reflecting on the societal problems that the corporation creates, or which philanthropic organizations best align with its business activities, would logically lead to the organizations it should support.”

She explains a tool called social return on investment (SROI), similar to the return on investment (ROI) that some organizations use, to determine if the dollars invested in social activities are providing more benefits than costs. “Although the monetized numbers put on the social activities require many estimates or fall within ranges, implementing the calculation can help support the efficient and effective use of donated dollars.”

Corporate philanthropy is also important for a company’s employees. “Beyond the societal impact, which represents a social ROI, companies should consider brand benefits and heightened employee engagement resulting from a clear connection to social purpose,” explains the focused and plugged-in Rhonda Roth, chief impact officer with United Way of Calgary and Area.

“Particularly, younger generations in the workforce seek opportunities for meaningful engagement with their companies, emphasizing the importance of aligning corporate philanthropy with employee values for a comprehensive assessment of return on investment.”

She adds that corporate philanthropy “not only boosts employee engagement but also cultivates a more cohesive team environment, fostering an enriched company culture. Research consistently shows that employees value being part of an organization that actively engages with and contributes to the community where they live.”

The practical – but unavoidable – realities of community needs and organizational factors like the economy, inflation and other business challenges impact and perhaps transform corporate philanthropy, particularly in the dynamic Calgary business market.

“The community needs are complex,” Roth notes. “People approaching an agency for help have more issues that need support and it takes more time to help each person. These issues are often connected to each other and may require referrals from multiple agencies. More people need help, and more people overall need help with mental health, income stability, ensuing relationships remain healthy and making sure people feel like they belong and are included in their community.”

She explains that agencies struggle with affordability and funding as well as staff attraction and retention. “The needs for the basics are increasing, whether it is access to affordable housing, food and other basic needs. The affordability crisis is impacting how far dollars go.” She mentions that it is also harder for agencies to find staff and keep staff, translating to longer wait times for much needed services.

In the past five or so years, and moving forward into 2024, the needs of the Calgary community and the corporate philanthropy focus have changed. “Many businesses rely on non-profit organizations to help them carry out important activities, such as sustainability objectives. The pressures on businesses increase to be responsible citizens and to carry out their responsibilities related to cleaning up the environmental impacts they have created.

“The context in which we live has also changed,” Irene Herremans adds. “The pandemic, of course, created new needs for computers for children learning at home, for various health care products, for help to care for those who became sick or suffered mentally from the isolation. Many of our corporations stepped up with contributions in this time of need. We also have more immigrants, with many social needs and new demands on non-profits to support immigrants and make them feel at home in their new country.

“And food insecurity has become an important concern recently due to the high inflation of groceries. Alberta experiences the highest food insecurity of any province, resulting in increased demand for food banks. Also, the increased cost of rental units has made it difficult for students and low-income families to find reasonable housing, increasing homelessness.”

She emphasizes that non-profits are expected to step in and fill these needs, but it is difficult to provide the much-needed services if corporations do not do their part by supporting them through dollar contributions. The encouraging news is that, despite expected and unexpected broadsides like the economy, inflation and surging community needs, Canadian business is continuing with philanthropy as a crucial priority.

According to the respected Imagine Canada – the national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities and nonprofits – corporate sponsorships, donations and grants make up approximately $3 billion worth of funding to the charitable sector in Canada.

Rhonda Roth says corporate philanthropy in Calgary remains robust, reflecting the City’s tradition of strong community support. Companies like TD, Pembina, TransAlta, Tourmaline Oil, Lexus of Royal Oak, City of Calgary, Keyera, RBC Foundation, Arc Resources and more than 650 other Calgary-based companies have dynamic United Way campaigns, targeting to build a better tomorrow for Calgary.

Calgary’s corporate giving walks-the-walk of the classic Winston Churchill-ism: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”