How Your Business Can Give Back

While it may not be the Christmas season, that doesn’t mean your business can’t start thinking about those less fortunate. In fact, since it’s St. Patty’s Day season, one could argue March is an even better time to give… because people drink, which makes them want to argue about things. But seriously, relays some stories from businesses around the country who are making a difference.

Every year for the past three years that I’ve been in business, one of the ways I have given back to the community here in San Francisco is by providing pro bono organizing services to residential clients or nonprofit facilities through Rebuilding Together San Francisco (RTSF).
Debra Baida,

Not only do we offer incredible discounts on the best things to see, eat and do in a city, but we also donate a portion of every sale to a local cause. We support a different cause approximately every four weeks.
Shirley Chu,

Recently, Bove’s teamed up with Shaw’s Supermarket to make a $7,000 cash and product donation to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. While Bove’s has been donating to the Food Shelf for many years, this year’s partnership with Shaw’s helps ensure the food shelf will be able to serve complete meals to area residents in need, and that Vermonters won’t be forced to choose between heating their homes or paying other bills and putting food on the table.
Mark Bove,

Because nonprofits have a very limited marketing budget, we represent them pro bono in our welcome baskets, as our community service. They provide us with the materials they want disseminated to the public, and we distribute them to every newcomer household.
Suzanne Meyer,

For the past four years, we have donated $1 from each customer “Connecting Point” product use to help both Y-Malawi, and South County Outreach. 
John Rydell,

Each time a package of Milani Hair extensions is purchased in the U.S., $3 is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Leyla Milani,

The staff is actively involved in the community and delivers meals to those in need, visits patients in the hospital and we all volunteer on various committees in our own communities. This past summer we helped clean a cemetery, assemble school supplies for those in need and taught Mitzvah Clowning to a local group of special needs students so that they would be on the giving end and not the receiving end.
Daniel Rothner,

Off Target? In the World of Politics, Be Careful Who You Back

Earlier this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court eased the rules on corporate giving to political campaigns, it was deemed a victory for the business community. However, Target recently discovered that this can be quite polarizing. When the company donated to a group supporting a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate for his approach toward economic growth and job creation, it soon received a backlash from employees for his views on social issues. Minnesota Public Radio reports:

The CEO of Minneapolis based Target Corporation is apologizing for a donation the company made to a political group supporting Republican Tom Emmer’s bid for governor.

The contribution to MN Forward prompted a backlash from Democrats and gay rights groups who called for boycotts of the company’s stores. At least one gay rights organization is praising the apology but is waiting to see whether it follows up with its renewed emphasis on supporting gay rights causes.

In a letter to Target employees, CEO Gregg Steinhafel wrote that the purpose of the $150,000 donation to MN Forward was to support economic growth and job creation, but he wrote that the contribution affected many employees in ways he did not anticipate and quote "for that I am deeply sorry."

Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud said the company will also do a strategic review of political donations and plans to lead a discussion on improving gay rights in the workplace.

"Our commitment right now is in letting people know that we’ve heard their feedback and we’re really sorry that we’ve let them down," Michaud said. "We want to continue doing the many things that Target has done as a company to foster our inclusive corporate culture and then look at ways of doing things better in the future."

The company’s tone has changed dramatically since it became public in July that the company contributed to MN Forward. At the time of the donation, Target officials said the company gave to both Democrats and Republicans and the contribution was aimed at fostering a better business climate in Minnesota. But the donation to Minnesota Forward and the group’s subsequent TV ad in support of Tom Emmer ignited a backlash that spread nationwide.

Michaud wouldn’t say if the boycott affected the company’s sales and also wouldn’t say whether Target would stop making political donations to MN Forward or other groups.

That’s what Monica Meyer, executive director of the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota, said she’ll be watching for. Meyer said she’s pleased Target apologized for the contribution, but she wants to make sure the company follows up on its promise to be committed to gay rights.

Goodwill About Much More than Just Clothes

Writing for BizVoice magazine has afforded me many eye-opening experiences. Case in point: While interviewing an interesting new company, Road Rage Fun Signs, I also met with Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana (an Indiana Chamber member, btw). Goodwill is working as a partner on the production of these signs, which are geared toward making roads safer by allowing drivers to notify each other about upcoming hazards.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve always had a very positive impression of Goodwill, but only thought of them as a place to donate clothing, nightstands, and maybe even some Christmas-related "re-giftables" (my apologies to society). But as it turns out, many Goodwill locations across the country provide more than just a chance for material objects to get a new lease on life. The company’s commercial services division also provides American workers with a chance to work and/or enhance their skillsets before entering or re-entering the workforce. This portion of the business provides outsourcing for other companies to aid their production and assembly needs, while allowing Goodwill’s employees to grow and learn to be economically self-sufficient.

"Ninety percent (of customer services division) employees have some type of barrier to employment," explained Goodwill Marketing VP Cindy Graham, noting that they may have physical or mental disabilities, or prior convictions. "Some learn skills and move on to other organizations, but we also have some people who have worked here for 30 years."

Dean Graham, CEO of Road Rage Fun Signs (and no relation to Cindy), explained working with Goodwill has been a blessing.

"I’m really impressed by their work," he said. "One key goal with our business is that we want to work with companies that lend a hand up. What better company for that than Goodwill?"

Look for the article about Road Rage Fun Signs in the November/December edition of BizVoice, and we also covered Goodwill’s adult services efforts in the March/April 2007 edition.