When banking group Westpac decided to enhance its corporate philanthropy offering in 2014, it didn’t do things by halves.
The bank’s then CEO Gail Kelly announced a $100-million educational scholarship scheme in what amounted to one of the biggest philanthropic donations in Australian history. In doing so, the bank tapped into a key trend within the corporate giving scene.
“One of the trends is to do big projects over time, rather than lots of little ones,” says Dr Bronwen Dalton, who coordinates the Not-for-Profit and Community Management Program at Sydney’s University of Technology. “There’s an attitude of ‘go big, go hard’ for long-term projects, long-term commitments and year-on-year funding.”
Partly inspired by the high ideals and community focus of Gen Y employees, the nature of corporate giving in Australia is changing. Many larger corporates including Westpac, PwC and NAB are narrowing their focus areas, zeroing in on causes aligned to their core values. There’s also an increased focus on professionalism in the giving process, with groups being asked to evaluate programs to show real achieved benefits.
While approaches vary from company to company, philanthropy is generally regarded as part of a business’s corporate and social responsibility (CSR) activities. It often takes the form of donations to community programs, crisis relief and the provision of volunteer workers. Qantas, for example, partners with organisations ranging from Make-A-Wish Australia to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
The traditional view of such giving is that as well as helping those in need, it demonstrates a company’s commitment to bettering society, boosting brand image while simultaneously improving the corporation’s attractiveness as an employer and increasing employee engagement.
Dalton, who teaches HR professionals undertaking postgraduate studies, says one clear trend is for corporates to vigorously assess the success of their charitable work, insisting on value for money.
“Increasingly, consumers and stakeholders are looking for evidence [of benefit], not just pictures of smiling kids and ‘green-washing’,” she says. “If a corporate funds a child-reading program, they now require that program to be evaluated to see whether it works or not, to see if there’s a return on their investment.”
Meanwhile, volunteer labour is an increasingly popular form of corporate giving, with the added benefit of team building. There’s also an emphasis on more tailored volunteering packages.
“Getting 40 bank tellers arriving on [a not-for-profit’s] doorstep can be more of a burden than a help,” Dalton says. “Most of the sector requires [corporates] to pay money for a volunteer manager to organise a suitable activity, or for materials.”
Siobhan Toohill, group head of Sustainability and Community at Westpac says the bank’s $100 million scholarship fund is one end of a spectrum of philanthropic measures, which also includes disaster relief and programs to improve the status of women and Indigenous people. She says Westpac has become progressively clearer on the objectives of its philanthropy, as well as how success should be evaluated.
“Communities need support at the time of a disaster, but families are at most threat nine months after a disaster,” she says. “Giving out grants during that period is quite important. We then try to go back and understand the impact those grants have made at a community level. We’re looking at how a community manages to be resilient through a disaster and in recovery.”
Toohill says Westpac offers staff one day of volunteer leave a year, and is working to improve the quality and impact of volunteering. “It’s very powerful to take an hour or two every fortnight to coach a CEO or to sit with an organisation to help them with a particular strategy or business plan.”
She says volunteering brings major benefits to staff as well. “Increasingly, we are suggesting that as employees work through their development plans, they consider volunteering or being a champion for a community organisation as a critical experience.”
Sarah Davies, the CEO of peak giving body Philanthropy Australia argues there’s a growing focus on corporate philanthropy thanks to the attitudes of Gen Y job seekers. “The younger generations coming through are very socially engaged, very socially and environmentally aware. They look for meaning and purpose in all areas of their lives, including their professional lives,” she says.
Davies says while there’s a diversity of approaches, she agrees many larger corporates are trying to zero in on causes that are relevant to their goals. “They’re saying ‘what’s our core business, what’s our core capacity, what does the supply chain look like and what do our customers and market look like?’ And within that where are the opportunities?”
Approaches to the sector are continually evolving as corporates see the major benefits that philanthropy can bring, she says. “It’s good for business, for shareholders, for staff and customers, and of course, it’s good for the community that the particular organisation works within.”
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the December/January 2016 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Big benefits’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.