Due in part to the recession and a decline in general standards of living, people are much more cynical about big business than they used to be, and it can be hard for business owners to explain how what they do helps wider society. One answer to this is philanthropy, through which business people can show directly that accumulating profits isn’t necessarily about greed—that money like this can be used to benefit others. Philanthropic activity is a great way for business owners to boost their reputations, win loyal customers and give something back at the same time.
Engaging with customers
In today’s connected world, philanthropy can have a bigger effect on a business reputation than ever. Just as companies fear the speed with which boycotts and bad word of mouth can spread if they make a socially ill-considered move, they can celebrate the speed with which positive news travels if they are perceived as doing something good. This has led an increasing number of businesses to develop high profile partnerships with charities. Even before funds are donated, an arrangement like this can benefit both parties by assuring them of good PR and increased media visibility. A highly effective approach can be donation matching, where a company offers to donate an equal amount to that given by members of the public (which can be estimated based on past fundraising drives), thereby encouraging people more generally to get into the habit of giving to good causes.
Philanthropy and new markets
Philanthropy can also open doors into new markets. It is no accident that tech companies have recently been investing heavily in countries like India, specifically with a view to supporting economic development and boosting literacy rates. With Western markets now close to saturation point when it comes to mobile technologies, these countries offer a huge new marketplace, but potential customers need to have the disposable income to purchase with and the skills to be able to use those purchases. Once they have access to such technology, they benefit again, because it becomes much easier for them to start up or expand businesses of their own, bringing employment to their communities. Done right, this approach to business philanthropy means that everybody wins.
Among famous philanthropists, Bill Gates has recently been in the news for extending his work to help children from disease control into education, using peer evaluators to establish the most effective ways of teaching in challenging environments.
Warren Buffet’s son has taken up his father’s mission and pledged $24m to help combat rhino poaching.
Francesco Corallo has shown his support for a children’s charity in Guatemala, taking the opportunity to circulate an old court judgment, which says that, for a certain police department, it is forbidden to link Francesco Corallo to the Mafia—illustrating how philanthropy can be used to repair a damaged reputation.
Chuck Feeney, meanwhile, has funded impressive new research facilities at the University of Queensland, helping to drive forward the development of technology that will, in turn, help others.