NEW YORK (MainStreet) — For people with a big heart, it's only natural that your desire to give would extend to the office. Many companies offer matching charitable gifts for employees who volunteer with a nonprofit, while others frequently coordinate group events for giving back, such as food bank donations or building homes with Habitat for Humanity.
But what should you do if you want your company to make a substantial donation to the charity of your choice? There's no one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to corporate giving, so asking for a philanthropic gift can be tricky. Experts weigh in on the best, most professional ways here to ask for corporate support for your favorite charity.
The first step is to learn what your company does for philanthropy.
"It's very easy to find out, but it's not always where employees begin," says Rachel Hutchisson, director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud and lead blogger for BusinessDoingGood.com.
"Often people are so passionate about their cause that they just say, 'This is something good, we should do it,' but they haven't done the necessary advance research. If your company already supports your charity or another similar charity, then asking them for more will just make you look uninformed."
Don't be afraid to talk to the boss.
"If your company doesn't have an identified volunteer or community development leader, I would suggest approaching your CEO," says Ruth Dufresne, employee health and wellness manager and manager of community development for staffing firm WinterWyman.
Community service is a powerful way to build employee engagement, and a successful program needs senior management support, Dufresne says. Good managers also realize that having a vibrant philanthropic effort is an excellent differentiator when hiring employees and a great retention tool for current employees.
"I would start the discussion with my boss and let them suggest the next steps," says Angelo Kinicki, professor of management at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. "If you can't convince your boss about the value of giving back, you probably won't succeed with upper management."
In a small firm, you might be able to go straight to the top to present your proposal for charitable involvement, says Chad Tragakis, chief talent officer for H+K. But in a large firm, it's good practice to follow the normal chain of command.
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"In our case, go to your supervisor. Discuss your idea and get buy-in — you'll gain a natural advocate for your plan in the process. Next is your practice lead, and then, if necessary, the general manager or senior leadership team."
Make sure you convey how the company will benefit.
"I would not ask my employer to participate in charitable events or events aimed to help a local community unless I had a clear explanation of how the contribution would benefit one of the organization's key stakeholders," Kinicki says.
It isn't all about "me, myself and I." You've got to spell out the ROI, says Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm.
"Explain that it could mean happier and stronger relationships in the office, which in turn will increase productivity and brand awareness, which could lead to bringing in new business — possibly even making prospective clients of the charity's board members and investors," he explains.
Check out what your company has done before.
Research what efforts the company has made in the past and either revisit those or look for similar opportunities — if it's relatable, chances are the CEO would be more inclined to participate, Gimbel explains.
Start by asking someone who's been with the company for several years whether a similar effort has been tried in the past. Get some insight and adjust the presentation based on what you learn, he says.
If you're bringing a new opportunity to the table, be proactive and do all the necessary research the manager or CEO might ask for beforehand, Gimbel says.
If funds are low, rally support from other employees.
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If your company can't make a substantial monetary donation, rally up a good amount of employees and donate time, Gimbel says.
With that said, it's not a good idea to "go rogue," Hutchisson cautions. For example, if you recruit five co-workers to volunteer at an event with you, you can't then announce that your company is "sponsoring" the event.
"Don't forget that the company is a separate entity from the employees," she says. "Even if you raise money from your co-workers and volunteer your time, you can't take your company's logo and splash it on a T-shirt or announce that your company is a sponsor."
It's perfectly fine, though — encouraged, even — to turn to company bulletin boards or kitchen spaces to announce your charity and any opportunities there. Just don't focus on it too much in conversation or you might become known as "the charity guy."
"Use your relationships at work to share the causes you are passionate about. Collective action is a wonderful thing, and you may be surprised by the support you'll gain just by placing a flier in the office common area," she says.
Think of your pitch as a business pitch or proposal.
"Why is your employer's participation a good idea? Why is the charitable organization important to you, to the community and to the people it serves? What are you asking for and why will you and your peers be proud of your organization's commitment to philanthropy?" Tragakis asks.
If you feel the need to make this a true business pitch, you can point to the fact that good character — the alignment of behavior with stated values — gives companies a competitive advantage.
"Good character increases positive public perceptions, which are becoming far more important in driving the bottom line these days than positive media or direct customer interactions," he says.
— By Kathryn Tuggle