Five years ago, a big corporation might have sent a hefty check to a local charity and patted itself on the back for doing a good deed. But today, with some local companies lacking the luxury of large revenue cushions, customary corporate donations are transforming. "That model is old and tired," says Andy Boian, founder and CEO of Dovetail Solutions, a Denver marketing, branding, and public relations firm that helps corporations develop community partnerships. "We're finding more companies willing to be more creative about their give-back."
It's called strategic community investment: Local businesses boost their karma by donating to nonprofits in a more hands-on way, like running a toy or clothing drive or participating in neighborhood improvement projects. Often, companies align the causes they support with employees' interests to make the experience more meaningful. Community Shares of Colorado has developed My Colorado Project, a new community-giving portal in a social-media format, to encourage group consensus on common causes. Employees join a "Giving Circle" and develop a contribution plan—even if that is just $5 a month—for the cause of their choice.
Other companies, like Pinnacol Assurance, an insurance company in Lowry, organize charitable work independently. In 2009, 93 percent of Pinnacol's 600 employees volunteered a total of more than 5,400 hours to organizations like Volunteers of America (VOA). The company recognizes that the visibility of an employee delivering food for VOA's Meals on Wheels can do more for goodwill toward the firm than writing a check. Other local companies, such as CH2M HILL, an engineering firm, and Saunders Construction, invest time and talent in community causes such as city infrastructure support and the Bridge Project, which helps underserved students succeed at school.
Every initiative builds the "reputational capital" of a company, says Jean Galloway, founder of the Galloway Group, a Denver marketing and public relations firm that connects nonprofits and for-profits. "Businesses are beginning to look at this as a strategic leap; they can get a return on this investment," Galloway says. "So are they strategic businesspeople, or are they altruistic? The answer: a little bit of both. But it's OK to be strategic. It doesn't mean you're self-serving."
Local businesses can consult Galloway Group or Dovetail Solutions to find strategic ways to support hometown charities. Galloway Group: 303-756-9096, www.gallowaygroup.com; Dovetail Solutions: 720-226-9595, www.dovetailsolutions.com
Rally a group of your coworkers and join My Colorado Project to support a local cause. The slick, user-friendly social-media format of the Web site makes it easy to stay up-to-date on common causes and meet your donation goals. 303-861-7507, www.mycoloradoproject.org
Consult Denver-based GoodSpark.org for a list of recommended causes developed by a team that researches how donation money is used by charities. You can also visit Tuggl.com to make sure you're supporting corporations that partner with the causes that are most meaningful to you.
Businesses who join the locally based 2% Club (there is a one-time $200 fee) agree to donate at least two percent of the company's profits—or the equivalent in services like hands-on assistance or pro bono consulting—to nonprofits. 303-388-1636, www.twopercentclub.org