Corporate Philanthropy: How to leverage your relationship capital for good

By Evan Bleier
The Brief
Corporate philanthropy has become just another part of good business. Whether or not your company has the financials to donate on a large scale, it’s important to remember that your most valuable philanthropic assets are your people.


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Photo: Stephanie Barstow, Raise5

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 they know–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.

If you already have the people, make it easy for them to get involved. Crowdfunding websites and social media networks are full of opportunities to donate time and effort instead of cash. As a bonus, many help you build your relationship capital at the same time:

  • Raise5 allows philanthropically minded individuals to post the services and skills they are willing to exchange for a donation to their charity of choice. People donate services like promoting business among their LinkedIn contacts or sharing a link with their Facebook followers. Some even offer up personal introductions to business contacts as compensation for charitable contributions. 
  • CrowdRise lets users share their charitable campaign with their personal contacts via email and across their social networks. CrowdRise is free to use, though it does take a small percentage out of the money that users donate. 
  • GlobalGiving also provides ways to donate time instead of money to help out charitable projects. The charity worked with Hewlett Packard to set up the “Dollars for Doers” gift card campaign, a program which allowed employees to volunteer 10 hours to get a $50 gift card to spend on the charity of their choice. 
  • Connect for a Cause, an online platform that raises money for non-profits by auctioning off one-hour meetings with business executives and other individuals who can provide mentoring and advice, you can simply let them do lunch. 

Corporate philanthropy isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s a way to retain your top talent, while providing time, energy and expertise to organizations in need of all three. And by utilizing your network to maximize impact, you’ll also be strengthening those connections for the future.


Evan Bleier is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Maxim, Huffington Post and United Press International. He is a frequent contributor to this blog.
RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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