Diary of an Intern: My Summer in Corporate Giving

It's amazing to say it, but last week I finished up my corporate philanthropy internship at ABC. The summer just flew by! In all, it was a really terrific experience that challenged me to think creatively and strategically about how to educate employees about our corporate giving program and how they can get involved. More than that, it was an opportunity to brainstorm and devise an action plan for how the organization can use philanthropy as a strategic advantage in business. I've given a pretty good overview of my internship in other posts on The Changebase (Learning How to Communicate Change, for example, or one of my Recap posts), so I won't spend too much time talking about my projects. In general, I split my time between two main areas:

  • Communications: this summer was all about the "Socialization of Corporate Giving" at ABC - which basically meant coming up with ways to educate our employees and leadership team about our program, how they could get involved, and perhaps most importantly, why it's good for our business. Within communications I focused on creating educational campaigns to let employees know about their option to donate product to charity; redesigning and expanding our program's presence on the company intranet; building out a more robust employee volunteer choice system (letting employees nominate nonprofits to work with beyond our network of partner organizations); and generally raising awareness and involving employees in the conversation. Here I am (below) at a Corporate Giving "expo" I set up to talk to employees, showcase our newly redesigned intranet pages, and encourage participation in the program.

Corporate Giving Event Aug 3 001[1]

  • Branding: I ended my summer by building the case for branding. As a short summary, right now the corporate giving program at ABC is called "Corporate Giving". Without a name or a visual identity, the program doesn't stand out and get noticed by internal employees. Not to mention the fact that currently ABC does not really communicate at all with external stakeholders about how it gives back. All in all, calling it Corporate Giving is impersonal and doesn't convey any of the heart or meaning behind why ABC is involved in the community. My report included competitive benchmarking (looking at how Land o'Lakes, Del Monte Foods, and V8 Juice externally market their community programs), making the case for why philanthropy in business is a strategic imperative, and outlining how and why branding our program is good for ABC.

Beyond my own summer projects, I also learned a lot about ABC's business overall. I had the chance to meet with members of the senior leadership team, including the CEO, the COO and a Director of Manufacturing, as well as with various department heads from Quality, Customer Marketing, Consumer and Business Insights, and others. As a nonprofit "veteran", it was eye-opening to spend 10 weeks at a company with 2000+ employees and learn how all of the various functional groups work together to make ABC so successful.

I was also lucky to meet and work with a friendly, smart group of MBA and undergraduate interns. Here I am with a few  intern friends at a tour of one of ABC's plants:

 OSC Tour

As my time at ABC wound down, I started to reflect on what I'd done and learned over the summer. A few highlights:

  1. Working in a for-profit setting is not all that different from a nonprofit: Sure, there is that one vital difference (ie: making money) - but besides that, I found that I acclimated pretty quickly. Interestingly, the part I found most "normal" (ie: similar to my nonprofit experiences) was the everyday, regular stuff: managing interpersonal dynamics with colleagues, finding enough time in the day to get everything done, and identifying ways to promote ideas and gain allies in the office. Ok, so ABC is for-profit. But beyond that, I felt right at home.
  2. How you talk to your employees is just as important as how you talk to your consumers (if not more!): Ultimately everything ABC does (from R&D to Marketing to Operations and beyond) is focused on driving sales, which means that the company (and every company for that matter) can get caught up in focusing on how it talks to its consumers. This is an imperative for business - but it doesn't take precedence over the conversation a company has with its own employees. To have happy consumers and customers, we must have happy employees. Sometimes when we get so focused on the bottom line, we forget how important it is to engage internal audiences in a conversation about our company values, heritage, mission, and goals. But as I learned in corporate giving, employees are our greatest asset and ambassadors; without them, the business just can't succeed.
  3. Change is sloooooooow: Change is such a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the idea of it gets our blood pumping and makes us feel energized and empowered; on the other, it can be overwhelming, unwanted, or feel like an unnecessary intrusion. Like any new employee, I came in to ABC this summer full of ideas, energy, and action, and I'm pleased to say I accomplished a lot. But any trouble I ran into this summer revolved around the idea that change - even good change - is slow moving. It takes time to get buy-in from the right people and package a message or idea in a way that your audience will understand - and even when you've done all of that, it's still a challenge to actually move the dial in the direction you want. I did a lot this summer, but I could have used way more than 10 weeks to really make an impact.

With just two weeks left until I begin my second year of my MBA, it's fun to look back on the summer and see what I accomplished. My experience at ABC really helped "round out" my understanding of how philanthropy (and CSR in general) can reinforce business goals and be a strategic advantage for companies that do it right. Now it's time to get back to school!

Diary of an Intern: Recap of Weeks 1 & 2

Hello dear readers of The Changebase, how've you been? I'm sorry that I've been out of touch lately--between starting my new corporate giving gig and also moving into a new apartment, it's been very busy and there's been little time for updates. But I'm back and ready to fill all of you in on my new adventures as an intern. As a reminder, in a slight attempt to keep my accounts of my summer somewhat confidential, I'm going to say that I work for "ABC", a privately-owned, consumer products company in Massachusetts (although I realize that by doing a little digging, you can probably figure out where I'm working). Why do I feel the need to keep things a bit hush-hush? My goal is to try to convey my experiences this summer as honestly as possible, and something about keeping the company name a little private just feels a bit more "kosher". So, thanks for humoring me on this one.

Anyway, I'm excited to report that I've now been working as a corporate giving intern for two weeks, and so far I'm really enjoying it. First, a little background. ABC has been doing charitable giving for quite some time now (in fact, I'd say the philosophy of the company is based on giving back, sustainable agriculture, and ethical behavior in business). It's only been in the last year or so, however, that they've tried formalizing their corporate philanthropy efforts and creating a true program around it. The company is roughly 75 years old and employs 2,000 people across the U.S. and Canada; I work in the corporate office with about 500 people. The fact that ABC has this main corporate office and a number of satellite locations is central to the formal roll-out of the company's corporate giving agenda (but more on that in a bit). I sit in the Human Resources group and report to the Manager of Corporate Communications. Overall I have to say that all of my new colleagues have been very friendly and welcoming, and there is even a really nice group of interns that I'm getting to know (including, I'm pleased to report, a Sustainability Intern!).

Corporate giving at ABC is focused on promoting nutritional health and family wellness and really falls into three main buckets: gifts of cash (ie: small grants, event sponsorships, etc), gifts of product, and employee volunteer hours. On the surface, this doesn't sound too complicated. What makes it complex, though, is the fact that beyond the corporate office, there are roughly 10 locations across North America that, for as long as anyone can remember, have kind of been left to do their own thing when it comes to philanthropy. The goal now is to get these locations on the same program and following the same guidelines and policies as the corporate office--which is where I come in.

My objective this summer is to help solidify and grow the corporate giving program at ABC. This includes ensuring that all of the satellite locations implement, follow, and track their giving according to the stated policies and giving criteria that the corporate office has developed. In addition, I've also been tasked with the job of adding more "infrastructure" to the overall program, including instituting an online giving system for employees through the company intranet. But perhaps my biggest priority for the summer is what my boss has coined the "Socialization of Corporate Giving". It took me a little while to figure out exactly what she meant but basically it boils down to this: once the nuts and bolts of the program are in place (that is, the policies are finalized and the architecture of the program is set), it's my job to figure out how to communicate the basics and the benefits of the program to our employees, and later, to our customers. First and foremost this means building the case for branding the corporate giving program (an especially exciting project that I'm really looking forward to tackling). Other components of the socialization plan include:

  • Educating employees about their new option to take a paid day-off to volunteer, and making sure that there are enough interesting and worthy volunteer opportunities to choose from
  • Promoting ABC's involvement in the Go Red for Women cause marketing campaign with the American Heart Association, as well as its partnerships with various regional nonprofit partners
  • Developing copy and content for the ABC website to make sure that we properly promote the program to consumers and other external audiences
  • Making sure that every employee, no matter their position in the company, understands the program and can serve as an ambassador for ABC and the good work it's doing in the community.

This is a lot to tackle in one summer, and so far it's been really thought-provoking and intellectually challenging--which is great! I am sure that somewhere along the way, though, I will run into some bumps in the road. Change is always difficult to deal with, and anytime you're trying to get buy-in from a variety of people with different motives and goals, you're going to create some friction--especially when things have been done a certain way for years and now we want to change it. I think this will especially come into play with getting all of the satellite locations on board with the new, formalized giving policies. What I'm most curious to see and experience, though, is how the corporate giving program grows during this tough economy. As I think a lot of people in corporate philanthropy/CSR/sustainability can attest to, it's one thing to say this is an important company priority, but it's another to actually put money into building the program. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months.

As I continue posting, I'll get more in-depth with explanations and examples of what corporate giving looks like at ABC and the various components that go into it, but for now this is a good overview. So far it's been a really fun couple of weeks and I've really enjoyed sinking my teeth into some very meaty projects.