The panel discussed emerging philanthropic trends, best practices from other successful programs, and how businesses can define a social responsibility program and engage their employees.
Santa Barbara Foundation president/CEO Ron Gallo said corporations today are uniquely positioned to have a major social impact.
“Here are corporations approaching philanthropy as something extra, to redefining themselves as a great, profitable company that is not just about what it gives but about what it does everyday,” he said.
Panelists included Carrie Brown, community relations manager for Cox Communications Orange County; Jeff Hoffman of Jeff Hoffman & Associates and former vice president of Disney Worldwide Outreach; and Mari Ellen Loijens, development and information officer for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Philanthropic Initiative founder Peter Karoff moderated the event.
Hoffman discussed Disney’s philanthropic role and how Walt Disney would take his animators into the children’s hospital in the 1930s to draw pictures for them. Hoffman said money is just one piece of the philanthropic equation.
“It set an early tone of volunteerism, and it goes back to who you are as a company and what you can do to make a difference,” Hoffman said. “If you are taking the animators to draw pictures for kids, that is adding value to something you can do.”
Loijens said volunteering and community outreach can increase employee productivity and morale. When Goleta-based Cisco Systems started out, it had an office behind an elementary school. She said employees could see the kids playing on asphalt from their office, so Cisco decided it would donate grass and trees.
“The Cisco employees would sit at their desk and say, ‘We did that,’ and they would be so proud to be Cisco employees and be more productive,” Loijens said. “It’s a way to see employees get excited about a company in a way you wouldn’t see otherwise.”
But she said a company doesn’t have to be Facebook or Disney to engage its employees and change the community.
Loijens suggested a “5 percent giveback day” when all of the retailers on State Street donate 5 percent of their profits on one day to a worthwhile cause.
“Just because you are not Facebook doesn’t mean you can’t engage, and it doesn’t mean you can’t do something together,” she said. “Find out what the power of that 5 percent was, what collectively you were able to accomplish. It could be huge.”