The Business of Giving Back
Rhonda R. Mims, President, ING Foundation
Senior VP, Office of Company Citizenship and Responsibility, ING Americas
Location: Atlanta, GA
Powerplay: Devises strategies to donate millions to financially empower the next generation.
How has the definition of corporate citizenship and responsibility evolved?
More and more companies have become convinced that the best way to demonstrate their social responsibility–and effect real, valuable change–is to concentrate their efforts at the intersection of what customers care about and what the corporation does best. All too often, corporate social responsibility programs have focused on issues that, while totally worthy, haven’t created an opportunity for the corporation to leverage its knowledge and expertise into meaningful solutions. That’s starting to change. Corporations are seeing that they can help generate social benefit, help their customers, and–not incidentally–help their bottom line by aligning the company’s social mission with its business mission.
How do you illustrate the importance and value of corporate citizenship to a company’s bottom-line?
Corporate philanthropy might be seen as one of those intangibles you can’t measure, but in actuality you can, because you can set your own scorecard and identify those things that need to be measured. This space has value to the business objective because it adds value to your reputation. You also can’t continue to make a profit and not give back anything, because then how loyal do you think your consumers and customers are going to be? Our employees are telling us that they want to get involved, they want to volunteer, they want us to identify things they can do to help the community in which they live. It is very important to tap into the skills of employees and to realize the value that your company brings to the table–in our case, financial services. Working in the financial literacy space, clearly we are making more savers, more investors,and more people that we can tap into as consumers. In order to demonstrate the value of the dollars that I am giving away, I have to link it to a strategy that makes sense for the company. In difficult economic times, you have to be even more strategic.
What patterns have you noticed as indicators of what matters to the public?
We’re seeing, from the recruitment process, folks really want to know what you’re doing as a corporation: What does your company stand for? Are you trying to solve education problems? Are you trying to help the homeless? Are you a green company? They’re going to our Website to review the annual report from a societal or corporate giving standpoint. When they come in to interview with executives, they want to know what you do personally. Consumers are asking to see our annual reports as well, to see if we have socially responsible mutual funds, whether we work with this nonprofit in our community. Because they want to be loyal customers, but want to make sure that you are a good company.
Partnerships require time, should a company’s expectations be guided by a time frame?
It depends. All organizations, whether corporations or nonprofits, should be held to accountability standards. Even a nonprofit has stakeholders. In any event, it’s important that you deliver the services that you committed to offer. ING is generally in it for the long haul. We’re in it to solve a problem or solve an issue, but at the same time we understand that you can’t take 30 years to solve a social issue–society just can’t wait forever. I believe in the philosophy that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. So putting our money behind it and the skill set of our employees, plus utilizing the tools that the nonprofit has, there’s no way that you can’t win. There are certain projects that are short-term and others you have to be in for the long haul to make a difference.
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