Column: Taking a year-round approach to corporate philanthropy

Published Dec. 17, 2012

The holiday season is magical, something to truly enjoy —  through fellowship and celebration with colleagues and friends, through family traditions, and through donations of time, talent and treasure to nonprofits we care about. All three of these are true for me, things I enjoy — and take joy — in doing.

Rachel Hutchisson, director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud
Rachel Hutchisson, director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud
It’s also a critical time of year for the fastest-growing sector in the US economy. Retail? No … guess again. It is the nonprofit sector that takes the crown, surpassing both business and government sectors. According to the Urban Institute, between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits has increased 25%; from 1.3 million to 1.6 million today. The sector accounts for 5.4% of GDP and 10% of jobs.

As someone who works with nonprofits every day at Blackbaud, I’d like to think that the “season of giving” to this important sector lasts year round. And, sure, donors make many charitable gifts every single month of the year. But the simple truth is that the end of year — whether it’s because of the holiday tradition of giving presents, because the tax deadline is looming, or because nonprofits tend to ask a little more frequently — is typically when most contributions come in.

One-third of all charitable giving happens in the last three months of the year. Whether this is a good thing or something that makes life more stressful for nonprofits, during the last week of the year when many businesses shut down (or slow down at least), the volume of donations increases exponentially for nonprofits.

Along with giving and celebrating, the end of the year also marks a time for reflecting, planning and budgeting for the year to come. We look at goals, projections, and how we’re getting there. We map out strategies in detail with supporting tactics, so we’re ready to jump right in when the calendar turns.

This year, as you are rounding out your 2013 plans, I encourage you to take a year-round approach to corporate philanthropy in the New Year. Whether that is in the form of volunteerism or through in-kind or monetary donations, build a partnership with nonprofits that is sustainable and lasts throughout the year. (And don’t leave them checking the mailbox on New Year’s Eve.)

There are so many ways to give, get involved
When planning your philanthropic strategy going into the New Year, get out there and ask how the organization you would like to support would like to be supported. An organization may be just as interested in skilled volunteers or donated meeting space as a monetary donation. You might be surprised!

Here are a few ways to take a year-round approach to corporate philanthropy:
Encourage Volunteerism
As Trident United Way’s Corporate Volunteer Council puts it, “Everyone Benefits from an Employee Volunteer Program.” Encouraging volunteerism in your workforce benefits your company, your employees and our community.  According to Independent Sector, the estimated value of volunteer time in 2011 was $21.79 per hour. (More than three times South Carolina’s minimum wage.)
Plan for innovative ways to get employees involved year-round, donating their time and expertise by serving on boards or leading service projects. At Blackbaud, we have a program called Volunteer for Vacation, where employees earn extra time off for their volunteer efforts outside of work.

In-Kind Donations
Whether opening your conference room for a board meeting or your atrium for an event, space is always at a premium for nonprofits and often something your business can provide for little to no cost. Are you planning an equipment overhaul mid-year? Plan to donate gently used technology to a local nonprofit. Have surplus inventory? Donate it to a nonprofit for use in an auction.

Monetary Donations
Finally, “nonprofit,” is a tax status, not a business model. Recurring revenue leads to sustainability for any organization, nonprofit or for-profit.

Consider giving regular contributions throughout the year versus holding off until the end of the year to give a large holiday donation. Make it easy for employees to give through payroll deductions or by providing matching gifts. At Blackbaud, we embrace a philosophy of donating in support of service. Through our “Reward Your Passion” program, we give grants to nonprofits that our employees already support by volunteering. We also participate in employee-directed grant-making through the Blackbaud Fund at the Coastal Community Foundation.

These are just a few ways to embrace the generosity of the giving season year-round and to make a big impact on the nonprofits in our community.

Rachel Hutchisson is director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, a global provider of software and services to nonprofits based in Charleston.

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