How Companies Can Bring Crowds to Their Causes

The 2012 Corporate Philanthropy Summit, held last week in New York by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), convened a panel on how companies can use social media to do more, reach more, and be more when it comes to their philanthropy programs. Read lessons learned, by guest blogger Alyson Genovese, Twitter: @alysongenovese.

I consider myself fairly sophisticated in the adoption of social media, but when I hear people talk about “the” new app, my mind goes to charts like this, reminding me that I’m not quite as savvy as I thought.

The 2012 Corporate Philanthropy Summit, held last week in New York by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), convened a panel on how companies can use social media to do more, reach more, and be more when it comes to their philanthropy programs. Led by the Case Foundation’s Michael Smith, the panel reminded me of a few important lessons when seeking to leverage the power of social media programs:

Facebook is a TOOL – not a strategy.

In the quest to be “in the know” or innovative, it’s easy to forget that these tools are to help execute a strategy – not the strategy itself. The first step is to choose the objectives of the strategic philanthropy program:

  1. Engage employees?
  2. Build the brand as a thought leader?
  3. Drive sales?

Once the objectives are determined it is time to choose the right social media tools.

Dalila Wilson-Scott, CFO of Global Philanthropy at JP Morgan Chase & Co., gave a great example of this in the Chase’s innovative Chase Community Giving program. The goal was not to get Chase on Facebook, but rather to create a consumer-engagement program that would deepen reputation and relationship with Chase’s target market: mid-career, professional women.

Is it working? Chase says ‘yes’.

With more than 3.3 million fans, Chase Community Giving’s Facebook page has more than triple the number of fans than any other social media presence within JP Morgan Chase.

Use social media to tie programs to products

Companies using social media to crowdsource the direction of their corporate philanthropy have better luck – and better connections – with audiences when they align the initiative’s giving with a core product. Patricia Salas Pineda, Group Vice President of Toyota Motor Sales, developed and launched Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program. While Toyota has existing signature programs around issues such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, 100 Cars for Good was launched to remind its employee and customer audiences of the power avehicle has in creating stronger and more effective nonprofits within communities. Creating tangibility was key.

Test and learn. Cede a bit of control. See what works.

Companies are used to controlling the message and their relationship with stakeholders. Social media has erased that one-way street and erected a two-way superhighway in its place. Internal decision-makers will say that social media is a legal risk. It’s really a PR risk. We have to let stakeholders decide how they want to interact with and influence the brand and philanthropy.

Grant Garrison, Community Engagement Director at GOOD/Corps, called it the ability and willingness to “fail forward”. Grant’s work on the pioneering Pepsi Refesh project changed the decision making of $2 million in monthly grant donations from Pepsi executives to the consumer. A participatory relationship with consumers can pay off: A recent study from Forbes and the Reputation Institute found that Pepsi jumped from number 16 to number 5 among the country’s most reputable brands, thanks to the Pepsi Refresh effort.

Don’t overthink it

Social Media feels overwhelming; it’s easy to feel behind the times. The good news is that when we try too hard to be first to a new app, we forget that customers and employees may not be there. Like offline media solutions, research will show where the target demographic is spending time.

Do it for your own reasons.

The power of social media to change how we think about and implement corporate philanthropy is staggering. If you think otherwise, check out this video produced by the Case Foundation and shown at the CECP Corporate Philanthropy Summit. Don’t embed social media into your strategy because your competitors are; do it because the tools within social media offer leverage, feedback, metrics, and opportunity for change like no other tool in our lifetime. See you there.

PS: A question raised during the session, although unfortunately we left without an answer, was: “How do you translate online activity to offline engagement and action?” For instance, how do you get consumer voters to donate to the causes they care about? How do you get employees away from their computer and into the community? What do YOU think?

GUEST BLOG POST: Alyson Genovese is a freelance consultant on issues related to sustainability, corporate social responsibility, public affairs, and employee engagement. She has over 16 years of experience in the private, nonprofit and academic sectors. Alyson may be reached at Twitter: @alysongenovese

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