Philanthropy: it’s good for business

Coins in open hands

Corporate philanthropy in Australia is thriving. Over the past financial year, giving across large, medium and small enterprises has totaled $17.5 billion. Though larger businesses make up only 0.2 per cent of the Australian business population, they’re now more likely to give, and in greater amounts, than others, highlighting a significant change around ideas of corporate social responsibility.

“This is a significant shift from ten years ago,” says Associate Professor Wendy Scaife, director of QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) and the Giving Australia study. “Back then it was small businesses who cumulatively were the biggest givers in the country.

ACPNS, in conjunction with the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs, has just released the outcomes of their Giving Australia 2016 research. Commissioned by the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Social Services, and an initiative of the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership, it’s the largest and most comprehensive study ever undertaken into giving and volunteering in Australia.

Giving doesn’t just refer to giving money to charities. According to Philanthropy Australia it’s ‘the planned and structured giving of time, information, goods and services, voice and influence, as well as money, to improve the wellbeing of humanity and the community’. And while the number of Australians giving has dropped in the past decade from 87 per cent to 80.8 per cent, it’s been a completely different story in the business world.

“In the Giving Australia 2016 research, we see that in terms of giving, large business has really overtaken other businesses,” Wendy says. “In their past financial year, large businesses accounted for $9 billion worth of giving. It’s quite a shift, and a surprise, especially when you consider that they only make up 0.2 per cent of Australia’s business population.”

The business component of the research, led by the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs, suggests that corporate giving has become normalised. It’s now seen as an integral part of doing business, and as Wendy put it, “as natural as breathing.” But in order to be effective, corporate giving faces some challenges.

“It has to come from the top down,” Wendy says. “Employees won’t engage if leaders don’t engage. But it also can’t be imposed. Employees need to be engaged, and it needs to be seen as being authentic.”

This is perhaps evidence of a more recent trend of values-alignment, particularly amongst younger people, which determines the company’s they want to work with, and the brands they endorse. Philanthropy seems to be emerging as the driver behind a new type of company loyalty, one less concerned with benefits and more focused on authenticity and social impact. Employees are increasingly drawn to companies that encourage giving, as long as that giving aligns with their own values.

The impact of this improving corporate culture is having positive side effects on the nonprofit sector as well. With an increase in corporate and community partnerships, the Giving Australia 2016 research shows that nonprofits are becoming more sophisticated. As charities get to know business and gain from those extra skills and volunteers, the entire sector matures.

While individual giving may be slightly down on the 2005 numbers, the increase in corporate giving suggests we’re seeing a changing culture in the business world, which is positive news for the nonprofit sector. When also taking into account the shift in employee and brand loyalty towards socially responsible organisations, it seems that giving is no longer just a good thing to do, it’s also good business.

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Digital content officer for QUT Business School, freelance writer and former government media adviser.

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