How Businesses Can Do Good: Five Critical Success Factors

I read recently that Farmers Insurance has extended a public commitment to help rebuild Joplin, Missouri, the town that was devastated by a tornado in 2011. Not only does Farmers contribute money to rebuilding Joplin, more than 200 of the company’s employees have traveled there to assist in the construction of new homes and businesses. What impresses me about Farmers is that three years after the tragic tornado, Farmers is still there . . . helping. Farmers illustrates one of the important principles businesses need to follow in order to do good: be committed. Here are five ways companies can go about the business of doing good, based on our own experiences at One Smooth Stone and from others we’ve learned from:

  • Give because you mean it. Don’t give for PR value (although PR value can certainly be a result of your actions). You can usually tell when businesses lack sincerity. They’re the ones who spend a lot of time bragging about their actions, when in fact their charitable donation represents a mere pittance of their earnings. Your employees and your stakeholders won’t be fooled; and in the era of social media, they won’t hesitate to let you and others know what they think.
  • Develop a culture of caring.  The best way to give because you mean it is to first develop the right culture of caring inside your company. There are a number of ways to do so. They include having your leadership team set the right example through their actions and getting employees used to forming caring habits. I recently blogged about ways to develop a culture of caring; my post contains more detail.
  • Find the right partner and cause. Businesses are like individuals: we can’t give to everyone or everything. We have to make choices with our finite budgets. So select ways to give back in order to reflect your corporate values and interests. For instance, the Body Shop has famously remained committed to contributing to the Third World economies and selects business partners that share the company’s vision.
  • Be committed. It’s one thing for a business to give a one-time donation to a cause; quite another to show a sustained commitment. As mentioned, Farmers Insurance continues to send employees to help Joplin long after the tornado has become (unfortunately) a vague memory for many of us who heard about it in the news. Ronald McDonald House Charities has been making life a little easier for families with serious medical needs since 1974. That’s what I call commitment.
  • Teach others. Yes, you don’t want to do good for PR value. But you should talk about your actions to encourage other business to do good. Sometimes businesses, like people, need a little encouragement. They might mean well, but they lack inspiration or they don’t know how to get started. Public examples can help them.  And you can make a public record of your actions tastefully. Avoid a tone of bragging, stick to the facts, and, most of all, share lessons learned. When you share, you encourage others. And giving back is definitely something we should all encourage. Frankly, that’s what we hope to do by telling our own story of giving.

Speaking of sharing: what are your best practices for doing good? What lessons have you learned? Please share your stories here with your feedback.

This post was originally published on the One Smooth Stone blog on March 25, 2014. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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