Why pick an unpopular philanthropic cause?

While an increasing number of businesses are starting to realise the power of corporate philanthropy to improving their competitive environment and bottom line, I find that still many make the mistake of picking a cause based on commercial value. That is, they tend to pick a cause because it resonates with people in the hope that this popularity will be mirrored in their financial results.

If you look at organisations like Facebook, Google, Apple, Starbucks, Shell, etc. you will notice that while they all have a portfolio of different causes, most revolve around education and poverty. A huge number of smaller, less known businesses tend to follow suit in supporting similar causes.

A research by the Centre for Philanthropy in the UK confirms that the distribution and destination of donations is not evenly spread among causes and that donor sympathies are less evident for charities working in areas such as mental health, addictions, domestic violence, asylum seekers and ex-offenders.

For many businesses that can only afford to support a single cause don’t realise is that adopting a cause that everybody supports isn’t always the best decision. Choosing a less popular social mission such as re-integrating ex-offenders or homeless, tackling mental illness, providing opportunities for the handicapped, etc., has its advantages.

And here are some of them:

It makes you stand out

When an organisation is built around supporting a cause rather than the cause being a side-line affair, it becomes a part of the company’s corporate identity. And guess what – when the social cause is somewhat different to the mainstream causes that most businesses pick, it makes you stand out even more. Say you were a tech company and you had picked education as your cause. You could, as many other companies do, contribute to education programmes for underprivileged kids for example. Alternatively, you could provide education and training in the IT sector for ex-offenders. While helping out ex-offenders is much less popular, chances are you will be the only company in your industry that creates opportunities for this group. The positive ripple effects of that are numerous. But mainly by helping ex-offenders to rebuild their lives, you prevent them from going back to the streets and ending up in jail again – something that we all pay for through our taxes.

You can make it yours

As mentioned above, education is one of the most popular causes and so is hunger relief, poverty, healthcare, healthy living etc. Some of the most popular philanthropy target groups are underprivileged families, underprivileged kids and third world country communities. The majority of organisations out there, both non-profits and businesses support one of these causes and one of these groups. This means that a number of approaches have been tried and various initiatives and campaigns have been taken already by numerous organisations. It would be difficult to come up with an innovative approach or do something different because we are programmed to think within the lines of what we already know. However, if you choose to support a less favoured group and a less popular cause, chances are there will be room for creativity. You could come up with new solutions and new ways of doing things. Why not even come up with the next Ice Bucket challenge? This will further differentiate you from other organisations.

You will have a greater impact

When affiliating with a less popular cause, you not only direct resources to a cause that attracts little funds, compared to other causes, but also little attention. Your impact is much greater as you can help not merely with money, time & resources but by bringing attention to a problem little spoken about. You have a much bigger role – make people aware of the issue and communicate how helping this issue will benefit society. Hopefully, you can attract other philanthropists and businesses to help raise both more funds and more awareness. Hundreds of companies work for the betterment of underprivileged kids but only a few work towards the re-integration of homeless people or the integration of refugees or ex-offenders for example. The truth is however, whether we like it or not, these groups are a part of our society. Thus their integration is just as important to a healthy society as the equality of any other group.

Clearly no philanthropic cause is a bad cause. There’s nothing wrong in adopting a cause, even if it is a mainstream one, when it really resonates with you or because you know you can really help due to the nature of your business. If that’s the case, then that’s great – you will be passionate about it and your contribution will make a difference. But picking a cause merely because it is popular or not picking one merely because it is not, is inherently wrong. Just think of all the resource that are not utilised to best effect because of this thinking, but also of the unfair distribution of resources among the different groups and causes.

Why not focus your energy where you can make the most contribution?  Find a cause through which you could make the most difference, not one that will make the most difference for your business.

If you too crave to make a difference and want to know what the best way to go about it is strategically, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. As a corporate philanthropy consultant with many years of business coaching experience, I can help you integrate meaning and purpose into your business in a sustainable way. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.



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