I continue to ponder the effects of this Wall Street mess on business philanthropy as I watch friends of mine whose hard earned investments are evaporating seemingly over night!  What is true is that at times like this there is a tendancy for everyone to tighten the belt – one way many companies choose to do that is by reducing their charitable giving.  But what a Catch 22!  Giving is down right at the time that the need for assistance skyrockets!  While on one hand such a reaction is understandable, staying “in the game” is also important.  Not only can your company truly “do good” at times like this but your reputational capital in the community and among customers and employees can be truly strengthened by continuing to give back, even if in smaller ways than previously.

Dollars are down for social service programs from all sources – federal grants, foundations, individuals, businesses…  There was an article in yesterday’s New York Times that I found interesting – Economy Expected to Take a Toll on Charitable Giving by GERALDINE FABRIKANT.  In the article, Fabrikant states, “Foundations are required by law to give away at least 5 percent of their assets a year. But when their assets shrink, their donations tend to shrink as well. Gathering enough money to return to their previous level is often hard.  At the same time, individual and corporate gifts to foundations and other charities generally slow during hard times. According to research prepared by Giving USA, donations did not keep pace with inflation for three consecutive years around two economic slumps, in 1973 and 2001.”

So maybe you don’t have dollars to give right now but stay calm – your company has other resources it can share with worthy nonprofits – many of which you probably take for granted.  Maybe you know how to prepare press releases, collect customer satisfaction data, set up bookkeeping systems, develop and manage databases, have a conference room or parking lot you could loan out…the list of possibilities is long if you think out of the box about your assets.

One problem is that as nonprofits feel the pinch, there is a tendency for them to default to begging for cash which you may not have available.  The dialogue of how you could partner to benefit both organizations and share some other resource you have can be cut short prematurely unintentionally.  If you are approached for a cash donation, if you don’t have cash, you can’t give.  But if it is a cause or organization you want to support, take the time to explore other possibilities and needs they may have.  Get beyond the knee jerk reaction of saying times are tough, how can they ask for money when we are sucking air here and your guilt at having to say no – to seeing what IS possible.

Your company can’t support all the worthy groups out there.  One pack of hotdog buns to every nonprofit that asks doesn’t really make much of a difference.  During times like these, it is essential that your company be very strategic and creative about how you give back.  Being strategic does not mean taking advantage or being crass and inauthentic.  It is certainly more than OK to develop giving criteria and say no to the masses.  Focusing your efforts on a small number of nonprofits that you have some mission connection with can allow you to make a greater difference – both in the community and show that you are one of the “good companies” that didn’t cut and run when times got tough.

Rethink your business giving but please, don’t cut it off completely!  Be part of the solution in whatever ways you can!!