Corporate Philanthropy

Want to make a difference? Think small for big results.

Corporate Philanthropy - Douglas Magazine Apr/May 2024

Purpose-driven companies are extremely trendy these days. Many founders and CEOs have started to see the value in using their company resources, profits or marketing schemes to provide a benefit to the wider community. There is good evidence that companies that have a strong social or environmental purpose grow faster, innovate better and have a more engaged employee base. 

The broad idea of “giving back” or being “purpose-driven” can be an intimidating prospect. When companies set out to involve impact in their business, they are often distracted by the size of impact that they think they need to create. This is why donation schemes such as one per cent of profits are so popular. It is a loud, clear and simple message and puts your philanthropy on autopilot. Digging deep into what you are passionate about, leveraging your limited resources and narrowing down how and to whom those resources are deployed can often lead to bigger impact and deeper engagement. 

When I launched Fatso Peanut Butter in 2016, I made myself a promise: If the company enjoyed any success, I would use those resources to give back in some way. I was in the process of letting go of an aspirational career to work in the UN, but I still had a profound need to create positive social change. The company never had a real excess of funds, so we used our time, our product and our platform to deliver consistent messaging and action in our immediate community. The impact the company created over the next seven years in many ways became the foundation for the overall success of the company, acquiring a highly loyal customer base that was committed to investing in our purpose. 

It is essential to find your core “why.” Setting aside your company’s profit-driven purpose, in my case selling peanut butter, and finding a meaningful personal alignment can help guide this decision. My core “why” was found in trying to raise the profile of marginalized voices. In 2016, I was six years into recovery from drugs and alcohol and had experienced deep stigmatization. As such, my core alignment was with other unheard and stigmatized communities. 

In 2017, Fatso did its first significant public fundraiser for PEERS Victoria for International Women’s Day, raising and matching funds totalling about $1,700. I looked around and asked, “Who is missing from the conversation around women’s rights, bodily autonomy and sexual liberation?” I found that it was sex workers. What happened next would inform my philanthropic mandate in the years to come. I received a call from the organization’s executive director who told me that this was the largest public-facing donation they had ever received from a private company. However, it wasn’t the amount of the donation that had created the impact, it was the fact that I had publicly aligned myself and my brand with a cause that typically does not garner a lot of corporate attention. 

From that point forward our purpose was simple: Find out who is missing in the conversation and get them up on our shoulders. We focused on individuals, organizations and communities that were often stigmatized or marginalized, such as sex work, addiction, the Black Lives Matter movement, trans rights and Indigenous sovereignty. I found that focusing on these areas with our limited resources helped to create more targeted and immediate impact than joining an already robust chorus of support around larger, already well-funded organizations. In fact, I have found that the smaller and more targeted the activity, such as the $250 low barrier micro-grant program we started for current and former sex workers in 2021, allowed us to drive to the heart of what we were trying to achieve in a more nimble and more measurable way. 

Money is not the only way to give back. In fact, money is the easy way to give back. Using time, resources and the strength of your company’s platform often creates a more lasting impact overall. Join the board of an organization you support; donate company hours for team-wide volunteer time; write op-eds in support of issues you or your company feel are important; and use your social media accounts or public-facing products to take a stand and consistently endorse causes that are important to you. Active and direct engagement with communities, organizations and individuals around your core purpose can go just as far, if not farther, than large cash donations. 

Becoming a purpose-driven company should come from an innate desire to create some good in the world. The term “authenticity” gets thrown around far too often when what we really mean is you have got to truly want it. If we can access that core “why” and become deeply passionate about creating that change, finding the resources and leveraging what little you have becomes both straightforward and impactful. When it comes to corporate philanthropy, especially if you are a resource-strapped company, thinking small can often lead to big results. 

Jill Van Gyn-Carr is based in Victoria’s Blenkinsop Valley where she is raising her young family. She is the recently exited founder of Fatso Peanut Butter and has just joined the Ecologyst team as its new GM.