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!