Add Punch to Your CSR Initiatives Through Product Giving Programs

With increased pressure to demonstrate their social responsibility, today’s companies are realizing the need to align their giving programs with business needs, business objectives and branding. Whether you seek new ways to build positive brand awareness in the community, engage your employees in your corporate philanthropic programs or demonstrate environmental and social responsibility, innovative product giving strategies can be an effective way to enhance your company’s overall corporate giving initiatives.

Giving consumer products has long been a win-win for companies because they can enhance their supply chain management performance by eliminating reverse logistics and providing viable solutions for returns and non-salable items. Companies can also receive tax benefits for any product donations that are used to help children, the sick or the needy. In 2005 non-cash giving surpassed cash giving for the third consecutive year.

Developing Strategic Giving Programs
Today companies are thinking outside the box and developing unique product giving programs that achieve a wide variety of their goals. The more strategic and well planned, the more effective a product-giving program can be.

“The most influencing corporate giving priority in 2006 is aligning programs more closely with business needs, business objectives, corporate reputation and branding,” according to a 2006 Conference Board survey.

Each company has its own unique business and philanthropic goals, product or service line, target audiences, corporate culture, industry-related issues and geographic scope of operation. All of these things should be considered before creating a product-giving program. Each company should define what success would look like for their programs. Goals should be ambitious, but realistic. Once they are set, it is time to begin developing the programs that can help achieve your company’s overall business and philanthropic goals.

As companies plan their giving programs, they should ask the following questions:

•    What are the company’s top three business goals?
•    What are the company’s top three target audiences?
•    What are the company’s current philanthropic goals and how are they linked with its business goals?
•    If the company has issued CSR reports, what is the overall message of these reports?
•    Which audiences do you want to target through the programs? What impact do you wish to have on these audiences? (Be specific.)
•    What product or service does your company offer that could be used in a product giving program?
•    How could this product help people or communities?
•    Should the company’s product giving program be focused locally, regionally, nationally or internationally?
•    Are there current business challenges that could be solved with such a product-giving program (i.e., loss prevention, supply chain issues such as returned inventory, discontinued models or old packaging, employee retention and morale, etc.)?
•    How will such a program be managed and do you have the appropriate resources?
•    Is there an issue that you could use to highlight such a program (i.e., cause marketing)?
•    Should you partner with a nonprofit organization that could help manage the program or highlight the issues you propose to solve?
•    How will you evaluate such a program to make sure it is having an impact on your target audience?
•    What internal and external stakeholders should be involved in the program development?

Keys to Successful Product Giving Programs
Product giving programs that achieve goals and demonstrate impact share a few important traits. As you develop your program, be sure to keep the following in mind:

•    Align your product-giving program with your business objectives.
•    Be authentic—corporate citizenship is a commitment to doing good, not simply a check-off or public relations opportunity.
•    Select capable partners.
•    Ensure the recipients of your donated products have been thoroughly vetted.
•    Define your desired social outcomes and benchmarks.
•    Develop a detailed budget for the program.
•    Recruit influential champions, and then engage your employees.
•    Measure and evaluate—focus on your business, philanthropic and sustainability goals.
•    Share your positive news.

Innovative Product-giving Programs: A Few Case Studies

Men’s Wearhouse—Tying Product-giving Programs to Business, Philanthropic Goals
In 2005 Men’s Wearhouse set out expand its donation programs that empower men in need—a goal that is tied very closely to its corporate business goals. The company partnered with Gifts In Kind International, a charitable organization that manages product donation programs, to develop a new strategy for managing its slow-moving and returned merchandise donations and expanding the company’s product giving programs that aim to help men in need become self-sufficient.

The two organizations worked together to launch a new product-giving program. In less than a year, Men’s Wearhouse solved most of the company’s supply chain challenges, expanded the donation program to provide better service to its target nonprofit groups, and opened the program to other organizations serving men in need. This allowed the company to free up its warehouse for more profitable merchandise and to receive tax benefits for its generous donations.

In early 2006, the company extended its partnership with Gifts In Kind International by moving the program’s logistics, packaging and transportation operations to the Greeneville, N.C. Gifts In Kind® affiliate, which also serves as a welfare-to-work program. Every aspect of the donation program now helps men in need, fulfilling several of the company’s business and philanthropic goals. The company has been recognized by the media and others for its effective giving programs. Perhaps most importantly, it has achieved Men’s Wearhouse’s overall corporate goals.

Mattel—Enhancing Corporate Reputation and Branding Through Product Giving, Partnerships
Product giving programs are a wonderful way to enhance your corporate reputation and extend your brand to target audiences. Mattel created an effective product giving program in 2005 that highlighted the toy company as socially responsible by donating toys to its key audience—children and their parents. The company’s two-pronged approach to giving toys includes a national program that allows qualified nonprofit organizations to request toys and a strategic partnership with the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI). The national donation program has empowered nonprofits around the country to put smiles on the faces of children in need. The NACHRI program allows children’s hospitals to request free toys from Mattel for their patients throughout the year.

These programs have likely contributed to Mattel’s reputation as one of the most trustworthy toy companies. As the company ends a challenging year, this long-term product-giving program will continue to emphasize the company’s commitment to children and families.

HP—Engaging Your Employees Through Product-giving Programs
HP, an international technology solutions provider for consumers, businesses and institutions, is quite successful at engaging its employees. This is crucial in an environment where young professionals now consider a company’s social responsibility record when they search for potential employers. For the past four years HP has offered an employee product gift-matching program that allows HP employees to donate new technology to qualified schools and 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organizations. The employees contribute a percentage of the equipment’s value via an online portal that is created and managed by its charitable partner, Gifts In Kind International. HP picks up the balance of the cost. This program encourages HP employees to be engaged in and give back to their communities by donating much-needed technology to local charities and schools that are improving lives.

Earlier this year HP supported Hispanic students in need by donating backpacks filled with school supplies to three Title 1 schools in Houston, Miami and San Diego, demonstrating its longstanding commitment to education and employee involvement in the communities in which the company is doing business.  HP employees played a large role in making this program possible by contributing to the collection of school supplies and scientific calculators and helping to stuff the backpacks in all three cities. This program has been an effective HP tool for both engaging the company’s employees and demonstrating the corporation’s responsibility to local communities.

Synopsys Computers—Reducing the Company’s Footprint
A survey by Cone Communications earlier this year indicated that 93 percent of Americans believe companies have a responsibility to help preserve the environment. The writing is on the wall—consumers today want to know that the companies they purchase from are being responsible. This recent phenomenon has resulted in wide range of companies scrambling to reduce their footprint and communicate those efforts to current and prospective customers.

Earlier this year Synopsys, Inc. launched an international recycled computer distribution program. Through the program the company donates quality, used computers to non-profit organizations in more than 20 countries around the world. The giving program, aimed at schools and nonprofit groups focused on primary and secondary education, primarily in math and science, supports one of the company’s key philanthropic goals.

While this program is a great fit for the company’s philanthropic programs, it also offers a boost to its sustainability initiatives. Such recycling programs are widely hailed as a perfect way to help people in need and at the same time reduce a company’s waste. These laptops are being utilized for good, and Synopsys does not need to discard them in a landfill. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Several other companies are now looking at how they can extend the life of their products—from books to high-end household items to technology—to both improve lives and reduce their corporate footprint.

Making Gift Giving Company Policy
Companies doing business in today’s environment are developing strategic and innovative product-giving programs that provide a wide variety of benefits and help them meet their company’s overall goals. These programs are being tailored for each corporation to produce measurable results. The few examples provided above demonstrate that whether your company is small or large, product-giving programs can help you achieve results.

This article was written by Barbara Florence, vice president, donor development at Gifts In Kind International and Melissa Lanning Trumpower, vice president, communications & public relations, Gifts In Kind International. It appears in the recently released PR News Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility, Volume 2. For more information, visit