Sarah Ford | May 27, 2014

Corporate Philanthropy: How to leverage your relationship capital for good

By Evan Bleier

Corporate philanthropy has been an integral part of the fabric of American business culture for 100 years. According to a 2013 report by America’s Charities, workplace giving programs gift $3 billion to nonprofits on an annual basis. Part of this may be concern over retaining good employees; the companies surveyed overwhelmingly agreed that employee giving programs directly affected their ability to attract and keep talent; many employees are beginning to expect time off granted to volunteer. 

But what if you’re not GE? How can a socially conscious entrepreneur or business owner make a philanthropic dent without a lot of extra money lying around? 

Simple. Leverage the capital you do have: your people. Resourceful nonprofit organizations are always looking for volunteers with relevant experience and skill sets to offset their overhead costs. Your relationship capital–your network of employees, board members, clients and the people theyknow–is a valuable alternative or supplement to monetary giving because of the access it provides NPOs to prospective new donors and volunteers. 

Making the ask may feel awkward the first couple times you do it, which is why you should focus on soliciting time and skills rather than money. When it comes to giving, most of us are matchers, according to Wharton professor Adam Grant. We’re very willing to give, with the expectation that our generosity will be matched at some point. When you reach out to your connections, make it clear that, regardless of whether or not they can give this time, you’ll be available to donate your hours and energy to their cause in the future. And, again, whether or not they can give, always, always say thank you.

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