Innovation is a big part of business, why not philanthropy too?

Corporate social responsibility is a buzzword we hear a lot about these days.

Many executives in the C-suite are aware that stakeholders on Main Street and Wall Street are scrutinizing what they do for the local or global community more closely.

The challenge for corporate executives is not if they must spend both financial and human capital in philanthropy, but how.Giving away money is easy — giving away money smart is more difficult.

In the best of all worlds, a smart businessperson views philanthropic opportunities as one to build his or her brand as a business thought leader rather than simply garnering local goodwill that may be short lived. Let’s examine some companies that give smart as thought leaders.

My favorite story of thought leadership is McDonald’s. The world’s largest hamburger chain, serving 68 million customers each day, has been a thought leader in childhood health and wellness for 40 years.

The mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities includes supporting families who bear bankrupting costs of treating their children at hospitals far from home. The company led the way in heightening public awareness for the ancillary costs to families caring for children.

So you ask, where’s the beef?

With a global network of chapters in 52 countries, Ronald McDonald House is squarely in the McDonald’s corporate wheelhouse: Who would support family-style homes away from home next to hospitals? A family-friendly fast food restaurant! This philanthropic platform has been used to raise awareness, promote research and create dynamic partnerships with other companies like Southwest Airlines. Southwest created the “Spirit of Hope,” a specialty airplane dedicated to the goals of Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Bring innovation to your giving
How can a B2B company position its philanthropy to become a public thought leader? At my company, our leadership, realizing its stock-in-trade was the brilliant engineers it hires to out-innovate the competition, determined that it should direct its philanthropy to places promoting innovation.

The Broadcom Foundation was established to focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and middle school science fairs. Statistics show that middle school is where students opt in or out of taking critical math courses that will lead to a science or engineering career.

This platform permits corporate leadership to share their views about the importance of early STEM education, advocate critical reforms — such as the Next Generation Science Standards —and encourage and reward employees for volunteering in STEM programs at their local schools.

The lesson derived from both of these examples is simple: Direct corporate philanthropy to what your company knows best — your product.

Find a charitable pathway that speaks to your brand and through the brand to social values and societal application of the products or services you provide. In so doing, executives, administrators, employees and clients can seamlessly find a place to participate in your philanthropic space — and your company will become a “thought leader” on an issue you care about. ●