Many small businesses are trying to become more involved in philanthropic activities in their community, but they are not sure how to get started or make their efforts most impactful. As manager of Global Citizenship for FedEx, I would like to share what I have learned about “giving back”. Companies of any size can apply the following strategies to make their philanthropic efforts most effective and rewarding:
Focus on One or Two Issues. When I started at FedEx, my team received over 1,000 calls a month for assistance from many worthy causes. Even a company as large as FedEx cannot address every social issue, so we had to think hard about what we had to offer and what issues best aligned with our competencies and company mission. In our case it was disaster relief, environmental sustainability, and pedestrian safety. Develop a plan for evaluating charitable requests and focus on one or two main areas. If you try to do too many things, you can end up accomplishing less and risk burning your employees out.
Ask the Community. Your Chamber of Commerce or local United Way may have done a community assessment study about the most pressing needs in your area. Matching these needs to your company mission, competencies, and resources is a great way to make a meaningful impact.
Give Your Employees a Say. At FedEx, we picked our top charitable efforts partly by polling employees about what issues they care about. As a result we have thousands of passionate and active volunteers who – in addition to enthusiastically supporting our signature programs –have planted trees to reforest Mexico, beautified playgrounds in their local communities, and rebuilt homes that were destroyed by hurricanes.
It’s All Right to Start Small. Do not be dissuaded if you cannot launch a huge philanthropic effort from the start. The cumulative effect of many small donors often amounts to more than one large donor. Additionally, studies show the reputation of companies is based not on the amount they give to charities, but rather the effort to give back based on their resources and abilities.
Giving Doesn’t Have to Be In Cash. Think about what you can offer in trade or skills. At FedEx, for example, we often provide our transportation services and logistical expertise to the Red Cross in times of disaster. In the same way, a local accounting firm can offer financial advice to community causes, and a sporting goods store can work with area youth teams. Sharing your knowledge and skills is often more valuable than writing a check.
Integrate Giving with Business Practices. Philanthropy doesn't need to be something you "do" after the business day ends -- it can also be integrated into the way your business operates. For example, FedEx provides customers with eco-friendly packaging and invests in low-emission vehicles. We extend our commitment to sustainable business practices through our work with Conservation International; supporting reforestation projects to improve biodiversity around the world. Look for ways your charitable endeavors can reinforce and extend your business practices.
Let Recipients Spread the Word. There is nothing wrong with getting attention for your philanthropic activities. You want employees and the community to know what you are doing – and the publicity brings more notice to worthy causes. When you publicize your efforts – in company newsletters, videos on your web site, or press releases – focus on the charity. Let them tell the story. The message will have more impact that way and you will receive more attention by staying in the background.
In these difficult economic times, there are many pressing needs – just as there are many different ways that small businesses can make their communities stronger, safer, and more sustainable. With that in mind, I am pleased to introduce a new series on Giving Back focused on three aspects of philanthropy where small businesses have and can make a significant impact: community, global and green. Watch for our featured articles in the coming months from special guest authors from the United Way, Red Cross, and Conservational International. We hope the articles will give you food for thought on how to launch or strengthen your own philanthropic endeavors. To learn more about FedEx’s approach to philanthropy, see
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