With Valentine's Day just around the corner we start thinking of hearts, flowers, candy, and romance. We need something to make us feel warm in the middle of winter besides heavy coats and sweaters!
Something else that warms our hearts is giving of ourselves to others less fortunate and in need. We are reminded daily of the desperation of the people of Haiti. We decided to talk about how companies large and small deal with social responsibility in their community or in the world.
Willow: We have all seen the TV messages for donations for Haitian relief efforts through many major US and international organizations. There was the telethon put together by George Clooney to raise funds for the relief efforts. We read about large donations of money, needed goods and services by celebrities and major companies.
Gail: There are many ways for an individual to donate and now they can even text or contact a charity through their cell phone and have a $10 donation charged to their cell phone bill. Just a reminder, here is the information on checking out charities from our December newsletter.
* The BBB's Wise Giving Alliance evaluates 1,100 charities.
* Charity Navigator rates the financial health of more than 5,000 of America's best-known charities.
* Guidestar lists 1.7 million non-profits that are eligible to accept tax-deductible contributions.
Most states require charities to be registered or licensed. You can find a list of state charity regulators on The National Association of State Charity Officials Web site.
Willow: Always check out a charity, even a well known one, to make sure that they are using the maximum amount of your money to actually help others rather than having high administrative and fund raising costs. Also beware of the scam websites soliciting donations for Haitian relief. Those that need it most will never see a cent of it. So temper your big and generous help with good, common sense.
Gail: As you know, we don't endorse companies or products if we don't have personal experience with them. However, I have to tell you about an interesting e-mail I received and what it led to ultimately. I have a Capital One business credit card for my own business. A few days ago I received an e-mail from Capital One to let me know that they were offering an opportunity to convert your rewards points to cash for a donation to one of 6 carefully selected charities dealing with Haitian relief. Curious, I followed the link to that part of their website to find out the details. For every 2000 rewards points they would donate $10 to the charity of your choice out of the 6. Capital One was covering all the transaction costs so that the designated charity got every cent of the money. I was impressed and proceeded to make a donation that didn't cost me anything out of pocket only some future reward that I probably wouldn't really need. I thought it was such an excellent idea, especially in this recession, and a true effort on the part of Capital One to be socially responsible. I think they may have the same offer for personal credit cards as well. They were not charging their customers for the costs of making the donation which is very rare.
Willow: Not only is that rare, I have never heard of any other credit card company doing anything even remotely like that. Perhaps we should all contact companies with whom we have cards and suggest that they follow the lead of Capital One instead of encouraging us to charge donations so they get the interest payments on your donation. That sounds like making money off of people who are generous and the misery of others. Looks like a lack of integrity to me.
Gail: Unfortunately, social responsibility is often determined by the value to the company. Big donations, particularly ones that will get a lot of free press coverage, or big volunteer efforts that will be filmed by a TV crew often are what determines what a company will do rather than doing it for the right reasons.
Willow: Many of us will remember working for companies that got so involved in United Way campaigns within the company that people were threatened or in some cases even fired if they refused to contribute whether they wanted to or not. Personal choice was stripped away so the company could meet or exceed their goal and get good press on their achievement. I know that neither you nor I ever succumbed to the threats even though we were threatened. It should be noted that United Way no longer allows companies to use those tactics.
Gail: Freedom of choice in donating to charities or volunteering for a cause should always be an individual choice and companies need to respect that choice. For instance, if your company were to choose to be volunteer reading tutors at the local elementary school, an employee who only believes in home schooling because of personal or religious convictions should not be pressured or forced to participate. In this case, if each participating employee has a paid hour off before or after lunch to be a tutor, then the same amount of time should be given the non-participating employee to volunteer for a cause of their choice unless it would require more time than other employees are allotted.
Willow: Respecting the views, religious convictions, culture, and time of your employees is mandatory when planning company involvement in any socially responsible effort. Listen to and take suggestions from employees as to what they would like the company to do. We have all seen those signs along streets and highways that a particular portion has been "adopted" by a local company, association or group. They keep that stretch of street or highway neat by picking up trash. You will often see news stories about employees from a specific company who are helping out with the building of a Habitat for Humanity house or cleaning up and making repairs to the home of an elderly resident who can't afford the repairs. There are so many opportunities to do something good for your community and it will often lead to good press for the company but that should not be the reason for being socially responsible.
Gail: Sometimes a company can use their own business to support the community. I know of one company that disposed of various sorts of toxic waste for a variety of companies. Many years ago, In order to give to the community, one Saturday a month, they would be open to the public who needed a proper place to dispose of hazardous materials at no charge. People could bring their old paint and chemicals, car oil, and other materials like that and know they were being properly disposed of instead of ending up in landfills and possibly polluting the ground water or even catching on fire.
Willow: Due to the high unemployment rate many businesses have stepped up to the plate with special offers for the unemployed. Office supply stores have offered such things as free or a reduced price for resume paper and envelopes. Barber shops and salons have offered free haircuts. Clothing stores have either donated to a central non-profit or charity or from their own stores a business outfit for interviews. Some restaurants have even given free or discounted meals to the unemployed.
Gail: It is just a matter of looking at what your community needs and how your company can help meet those needs. It doesn't have to be big and flashy or cost a lot of money but it should be done from generosity and caring, with the integrity of not caring if anyone ever knows what you do.
Willow: As a business owner, you can be a true role model for your employees and perhaps even for other businesses by being a socially responsible and committed citizen. Let your caring for others, the environment, or a special cause show your leadership abilities.
Gail: Always remember that you get your support and business from your community, whether is a local or a global business and that you should give back to the community from the heart.
Now share your generous and warm heart with your loved ones and have a Happy Valentine's Day.