Charitable Giving Front: Deena Carstens Munn

Donate with a plan: Is charitable giving good for business, or just good business?

Companies big and small are seeking ways to give back to their communities. As they do, they’re marrying corporate objectives with community needs, resulting in a victory for businesses and charities alike.

The days of absently writing checks have passed and the era of strategic giving is upon us, which means more work for both parties.
For companies, it means having a well thought out strategic plan for community investment, which includes internal and external engagement. For charities, it means they must better understand each company, their philanthropic programs and business goals, and offer appropriate options for support.

For a company to create a sustainable strategic plan that supports its triple bottom line — people, planet and profits — it must first determine the types of contributions it may offer. A robust philanthropic program will typically offer a combination of non-cash or in-kind product, cash through foundation, or corporate grants and volunteerism.

Non-cash or in-kind product could include software, hardware, printing services, computers, airline tickets, books or corporate assets such as used tables and chairs. Cash is the top means of support offered to charities, which may fund events that in turn fund programs. But it’s advisable to review a full list of funding options to determine the best strategic fit.

As for volunteerism, there are many ways to engage employees, but here are a few:

Employee giving programs

Employees are often looking for ways to get involved. Offering them a structured program such as United Way, EarthShare or your own signature program through which they can engage a charity will empower generosity and engagement. Company matching goes a long way as well, but isn’t a must.
Day of giving

Create an occasion to come together as a group for a day of volunteering or a community project. It will show your employees and the community that you care, and you will find employees are happier because helping the community is the right thing to do. It’s a great team building opportunity, too.

Paid volunteer time-off

Offer employees one day off per year to support causes that are aligned with your business. It promotes goodwill and allows your company to work together with employees to make a difference. Skills-based volunteerism, or volunteerism that capitalizes on talents, business skills, experience or education, requires more thoughtful engagement and is the perfect intersection of business and community.    

The biggest challenge I see with corporate giving today is what I call “repeat philanthropy,” meaning companies will fund the same causes and organizations year after year. While repeat philanthropy is financially beneficial for charities, it also introduces risk when budgets, management or focus areas change.

Thoughtful planning will promote proper engagement on all levels and build sustainable programs to ensure long-term success. After all, corporate giving can help attract and retain employees, imbue employees with pride and let employees know that the company cares about not only building its profits, but about the community and the planet, which certainly makes charitable giving good for business as well as just good business.

Deena Carstens Munn earned a degree in sociology from the University of Florida. She has over 10 years of experience in corporate philanthropy and over 20 years of experience working with nonprofit charitable organizations. She is the founder of the Houston Philanthropic Society and also works for IHS as a senior sponsorship manager for CERAWeek. Munn has enjoyed volunteering for Hospice of North Central Florida, Texas Children’s Hospital, the Greater Houston Partnership (Energy Collaborative), Houston Technology Center, Christian Community Service Center (CCSC), P.A.W.S. Houston and The Nature Conservancy. For more information, visit

To learn more about the Houston Philanthropic Society, like its Facebook page and follow on Twitter @HoustonPS.