When it comes to individuals, sharing gratitude is pretty straight-forward and ideally a personal gesture such as a handwritten note, a small gift or public recognition. So how does a company as a whole say “thank you”? A company thank you is a group effort that takes more coordination and planning than individual-to-individual gratitude, but the result is good for business and will be appreciated by an entire community of people.
One way many companies say thank you is through donations to charity. Each summer the Chronicle of Philanthropy releases the results of a major survey on corporate giving among the largest U.S. companies. The latest data is for 2012, and you can explore it here. When evaluating this data, Forbes writer Susan Adams says it’s more meaningful to take into account the percentage of profits donated, not the total cash amount.
“We think the list that shows giving as a percentage of profits is the most meaningful, because it demonstrates what share of its fortune a company is willing to put into doing good, while the cash list is in some measure based on the size of the company. For instance, ExxonMobil, the nation’s largest company by revenues, is number three on the cash giving list, but gives away only 0.4% of its pre-tax profits,” she writes.
Beyond doing good in the world, charitable giving is an opportunity to involve and engage employees. Don Fornes, cofounder and CEO of Austin-based Software Advice, writes in his company blog A Million Little Wins about a charitable giving campaign that brought his employees closer. His reflection on the experience, “It’s Not Every Day You Get to Save a Five-year-old’s Life,” sheds light on how charitable giving can bring fresh meaning to the concept of a company “thank you.”
Software Advice employees raised $28,400 to sponsor a 5-year-old Nigerian girl who needed a life-saving heart surgery. But this was no simple “donation box” scenario. The girl, named Confidence, actually traveled to Austin with her mother and stayed with Fornes and his family while she prepared for and recovered from her surgery . Employees donated time, too, to visit Confidence at the hospital and at the Fornes’ home. The experience, organized by the HeartGift Foundation and coordinated with Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, had a lasting impact, Fornes says.
The effect the experience had on my family and my employees proved much more powerful than the financial contribution. […] It changed the way we look at our daily lives, and made us feel lucky for all the little ways in which we are privileged. But perhaps most importantly, it taught us how transformative it can be to truly help another person. While it was an emotional challenge to let her go, knowing that we were able to give Confidence the gift of a long life was fulfilling.
In the end, Fornes says, the experience taught him how to give his staff a sense of purpose: “Even if the work they do day-to-day isn’t saving the world, our employees can see that the revenue their efforts are generating is funding good things that truly help people. No matter how we get there, we’re making other peoples’ lives better through our company’s success.”
Another way companies can maximize charitable giving is by building a full-fledged community outreach campaign that encourages partnership, education and public input. Let’s look at two major American businesses that are doing the company thank you right, Culver’s and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
Culver’s “Thank You Farmers” campaign is targeted at the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Organization and aims to give back to the farmers who make the ingredients Culver’s uses, while at the same time educating the public about what FFA is and providing a forum where people can donate and say thank you to farmers, too.
Culver’s describes the campaign on its website as a natural progression “from gratitude to full-fledged support.”
“Culver’s wouldn’t be what it is today without the family farms that grow and produce the wholesome, delicious food we so proudly serve. From the cattle ranches of the Great Plains to the dairy farms of Wisconsin and south to Georgia’s chicken country, it’s important to us to make sure farm families across the nation clearly see how thankful we are for their hard work and dedication.”
Another company giving back in a big way is Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Enterprise released its “50 Million Thanks” commercial, voiced by actor Tom Selleck. The ad describes Enterprise’s commitment to plant 50 million trees in U.S. national forests to honor the company’s 50th anniversary, in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service. This amounts to a new Central Park every 10 days for the next 50 years.
Selleck’s voiceover in the ad touches on the very dilemma many companies face: “You can see a thank you in a smile, you can feel it in a handshake. But how does a company say ‘thank you’?” Like the Culver’s “Thank You Farmers” campaign, “50 Million Thanks” provides avenues for public input. You can read more about restoration and tree-planting efforts and make your own donation on the Arbor Day Foundation website. (Find out here when your state celebrates Arbor Day.)
What do the Culver’s and Enterprise “thank you” campaigns and Software Advice’s sponsorship of Confidence have in common? They’re not quick, one-hit efforts. They’re designed to be longterm and self-sustaining, plus they invite as many people as possible to join in the gratitude.
How does your company share its gratitude with employees and with the public? For more ideas on growing gratitude within your organization, download our free guide to “Workplace Gratitude” and start sharing your gratitude today!
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