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Why Businesses Need To Think Differently About Charity

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Stories and studies about millennials are everywhere these days, many focused on what business leaders need to do to keep them happy at work. According to this recent story in the Harvard Business Review, just 28.9 per cent of millennials say they are engaged at work, and for 60 per cent, a sense of purpose is part of the reason they choose where to work. If companies want to keep their millennial employees, they need to get creative. And it's going to take far more than flexible work options, ping pong tables and craft beer happy hour.

It's been recognized that millennials hunger for meaning and purpose in work and want to make a difference in the world. So businesses need to find solutions to engaging their millennial talent, and one very powerful way to do that is through social enterprise campaigns.

Social enterprise campaigns are the most promising new trend in philanthropy, according to New Philanthropy: Building Lasting Change, a new report from BNP Paribas Wealth Management. This kind of "collaborative philanthropy" has big, positive implications for both businesses and employees, not only in retaining millennial talent but also in creating value and impact for everyone involved.

By incorporating social giving into the bones of a business, everyone gets involved and emotionally invested. It can be a transformative process that shakes things up, injects passion and purpose into the workplace and transforms our understanding of how corporate social responsibility can look in a small business context. It takes businesses out of their world of spreadsheets and client lists and cash flow and into the bigger picture of how money can be used for social good.

Here's a recent example: Allan Financial, a small Vancouver insurance company, wanted to do things differently and engage their millennial employees and give back in a way that was meaningful. So to achieve that challenging trifecta of needs, they partnered with Kiva, a San Francisco-based, micro-finance crowd-funding platform that loans money to low-income entrepreneurs in over 80 countries. This wasn't a philanthropy play, or a typical donation. It was a micro-loan initiative to support businesses that needed the capital to launch and grow.

Over three years, Allan Financial raised a whopping $400,000, often in $25 increments, for 1,200 strangers in 33 different countries. And their "donation" was repaid in full within 12 months. This meant the company was able to send funds out into the world again to help someone else, a boomerang of philanthropy. It was incredibly innovative and impactful, especially for a company with just nine employees.

But what's remarkable is not just the numbers, it's the realization that social giving doesn't have to be a donation. If it's done right, it can boost the bottom line for both giver and receiver. For Allan Financial, the campaign didn't just inspire and motivate its millennial employees, it brought in new clients, drawn to their new reputation for financial innovation.

For another example of this new kind of philanthropy, look at developers and home builders who have partnered with World Housing. They donate a certain amount from the sale of each condo or house to World Housing to fund the building of homes in landfill communities in the developing world. This one-on-one gifting model, inspired by the success of Tom's Shoes, appeals and engages both those who work for the developers as well as homebuyers because it is a meaningful and innovative charitable partnership. It's collaborative philanthropy.

Those involved with World Housing can follow the stories of those on the receiving end of the charity and the impact it has on their lives. They get first-hand accounts of how a family's life is changed by being given a free, safe, permanent house. Similarly, those involved with Allan Financial's Kiva campaign got first-hand accounts of how loans helped businesses -- like an empanada cart in Bogota or a shop in Nairobi -- succeed.

So many companies take the easy route, and simply donate money in a routine annual drive, asking employees to chip in. But rarely does that model offer any value or impact on either side. It's the same thing year after year, directing a certain amount of money to a charity to get a tax receipt. It's unremarkable because it's not personal.

These kinds of social enterprise campaigns are on the rise because they are remarkable and personal. Millennials expect philanthropy to be a built-in part of any successful business model. They believe it's an essential corporate responsibility to give back in a way that is meaningful and different.

So how do you create an impactful social enterprise campaign for your business? Certainly not by blindly giving to a cause. The most important lesson I learned during the Kiva campaign was that partnering with an innovative organization helped make the company more interesting and compelling, particularly for tech-savvy millennials who are looking to be part of an organization that does more just business as usual.


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