When I flew to Palm Springs on Sunday, I shared a row with Frank Schultz, owner of Tavern Hospitality Group. We started chatting and when I told him that I work with businesses on being more strategic and effective with their giving to maximize impact, he was a little put off. He went on to say that his company’s giving to the Children’s Hospital in Denver was not for PR purposes but came from his true desire to help children in need. I told him very sincerely that was GREAT and I am all for that – that I was not suggesting otherwise. I then tried to explain that I also am not a big fan of companies that ONLY “do good” because they want to “look good.” I believe most consumers are savvy enough to discern a “snow job” when they see one. If a company has some major dings in other areas of their operations, tossing a few dollars at a nonprofit doesn’t turn the Titanic and build credibility. “Goodwashing” is no better than “greenwashing” in my view. If you don’t really care about a cause you are supporting, stop and take the time to find some other one you do care about to support. Thinking about the many business owners I have talked with over the years, it is just so RARE that I have found small or mid-market companies truly just going for the PR benefit. I find most have a genuine desire to do good but sometimes just don’t quite know how to do it to make the most impact for their cause using their scarce resources.
That said…I do think being strategic and intentional with scarce resources is very important. Frank told me about a wonderful project his company does for Children’s Hospital. They have a 10-week concert series on Sundays when there are no surgeries etc. going on. Each week a different band sets up in the hospital foyer so they kids on all the floors can watch and listen. It sounds like it is a big hit with hospital staff, the children and their families, and his company. He told me very sincerely about being given “the tour” of the various floors in the hospital and how gut wrenching it was to see such sick children. He said seeing those children makes him feel so grateful for the things he has and that he is able to share music with them. Several venues owned by his company offer music -the Soiled Dove in Lowry and Cowboy Lounge in LoDo. Using his connections, he is able to get bands like The Fray that are now so popular that they have outgrown some of the smaller local venues to agree to play for the children to support his efforts. Very cool!
I asked how he lets his customers know about what he does. His response was that he thinks not telling about it is a “sign of character” in the owner. While on one hand, I see what he means. However, I pointed out that his customers would be even more loyal if they knew and that many of them would love to help out in some small ways – like rounding up their food and drink tab as a donation. I suggested that he could leverage his connections with customers, vendors, and other businesses to also support the cause and he could then do EVEN more good. So he started to warm up to what I was saying.
Strategic giving for me means leveraging a company’s assets and connections to do the most good in the community. Being a good neighbor (and being known as a good neighbor) doesn’t mean a company is being crass and totally self serving when the actions come from the heart and are done in a way that make a real difference. It a fine line to walk when sharing the stories of the great things your company does – but doing it also helps inspire other companies and people to get involved, as well.