Large corporations give back over $21 billion to charitable organizations each year. American Express and The Chronicle of Philanthropy say small companies donate an average of 6% of their profits to charity.

Giving is good.

But philanthropy as a marketing tool is weird.

I sincerely believe it begins innocently enough. Good businesses give back. But then something happens…

“How about we make an ad that says, ‘we’ll give 10% of our profits this weekend to Save the Bunnies?’”

Wait a second. Let’s pick that apart:

IF you do business with us

And only IF you do

This weekend

And only THIS weekend

We will give 10% of our profits

So, $3 to $5 for every $100 you spend

To Save the Bunnies

Something about that doesn’t sound very philanthropic. It’s weird.

I’m not doubting your commitment to bunnies. But it seems like you only like bunnies if people do business with you.

If you like bunnies so much…why don’t you just give them money?

Maybe it’s my midwestern sensibilities. Using a charity to try to goose sales feels… unseemly.

You can, and certainly should, do good things for society. You can talk about your good heart in your advertising. But holding the bunnies hostage until a customer walks through the door isn’t in your best interest. Or the bunnies’.

Here are a few, more tasteful, ideas:

Donate 20% of your advertising to the organization. Give the organization needed exposure with your existing advertising by saying, “Bunnies are important and adorable. Please donate to save the bunnies. At Greg’s Groceries*, we agree…Bunnies are the future.”

*The Federal Trade Commission in the United States mandates sponsor identification, so your biz name has to show up in some fashion.

Use your customer base to help the organization. Use your mailing list, bag stuffers, or point-of-purchase displays to direct your customers to their organization.

Buy them stuff. If they need shirts, signage, or print collateral, write the check. You probably have a reliable resource already. Remember, having your name on a Little League uniform isn’t advertising. It’s a donation.

Just write the check. Did you know Wells Fargo gives $10.6 million to The American Red Cross every year? Neither did I. They just do it. No fanfare. That’s always an option.

Take care of your stakeholders. Supporting your city and employees is both altruistic and good for business. Reciprocity tugs strongly in us all.

Your community got you to where you are. Giving back however you can is the right thing to do. Just be delicate about taking credit. If the charity wants to brag about you, humbly thank them for their acknowledgment.

If you want to brag about you…you’re doing it weird.

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