Pssst… Those Acts of Corporate Kindness: They’re Good for Business, Too


“No one has ever become poor by giving.”

Anne Frank wrote that in her diary during World War II. She was right. And 70 years later, American business has figured out how to gracefully turn charitable gestures into a leg up in the world.

Take Wal-Mart, which announced in January that it would go out of its way to hire more than 100,000 veterans by 2018. Generous? Absolutely, and the news was greeted with a full-throated endorsement from First Lady – and occasional Target shopper – Michelle Obama.

Yet it was also a public relations coup that could help dispel a cloud over Wal-Mart’s reputation. The retailer had been embarrassed several months earlier when news emerged that its Mexico units had allegedly bribed public officials. Wal-Mart emails showed chief executive Mike Duke had learned of the bribes in 2005.

Up against a still-sluggish economy and muted consumer confidence, big companies have been looking for inexpensive ways to shine up their brands and restore their investors’ confidence. Some are finding that corporate social responsibility, pro bono work and volunteering fit the bill.

There’s a federal service agency called the Corporation for National and Community Service egging them on. In 2008 the agency launched an effort to get big business to do $1 billion of pro bono work for nonprofits. Those who’ve signed on include Deloitte, IBM and Accenture.

Pharma giant Pfizer is sometimes criticized for charging too much for its drugs. So its “patient assistance” program provides drugs to uninsured and underinsured U.S. families at reduced rates.

Pro bono work is of course a tradition in the legal industry, and some law firms and state bars even made pro bono hours mandatory. Most lawyers say the work not only gives poor clients a day in court, it creates some good will with the rest of the public.

Do you want in? You don’t need thousands of employees or an enormous cash horde. Your company can participate in socially responsible corporate projects or perform volunteer work. Consider having your employees collaborate to choose your company’s pet causes. These efforts can help you recruit and retain talent.

Charity is good for a company’s image, of course. So don’t be afraid to publicize your efforts.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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