Boston Business Journal
September 10, 2010
by Alan & Harriet Lewis
In the spirit of today's Corporate Philanthropy Summit hosted by the Boston Business Journal, we would like to suggest that corporate philanthropy is not only good for your company's spirit and soul, but it is also fundamental to your organization's long-term success.
We can assure you from 25 years of business and philanthropic experience that incorporating a strong social mission into your business increases profitability, attracts the right kind of employees, and helps to foster a loyal customer base. Our decision to make philanthropy an integral part of our mission is the best business decision we've ever made.
We've learned several important lessons from mistakes we made over the years as we developed our social mission. Above all, we learned that in order for a philanthropic program to be successful and able to evolve over time, it should be connected to your company's line of business. When we first started out in our international travel business, we funded everything — rainforest preservation, monument restoration, scientific research. We were literally all over the map.
Over the years, though, we learned to focus on a single cause or area and fund related projects only in our hometown of Boston and in the communities that are literally in the path of our travelers. Today, our focus is on supporting youth-related organizations and their communities, which we do in Boston and in 60 villages that our travelers visit as part of their itinerary.
Such focus has made a huge difference to us in terms of the impact we can have on communities and in the way we can market to and involve our customers. It has helped us brand our identity, too, and given us a competitive advantage.
We believe that such a focus will help your business, too.
When you tie your philanthropy to your work, you have a natural, built-in constituency. Your employees and customers naturally share your company's interests, and if the cause you support is related to your business, they will very likely engage.
More than 90 percent of our employees participate in company-sponsored events each year and over the years, they have donated more than $1 million of their own money to causes we support. Since January, about 5,000 customers have helped us raise more than $575,000 for charitable causes.
Unless one's philanthropic program is related to one's business, there's a good chance that leaders will lose interest in it over time and the program will wither or cease to be funded, especially during economic downturns like today's.
We urge business leaders not be swayed by trendy causes. We believe that by sticking to your path and staying on it for the long haul, you will end up with a much stronger organization and a workforce and customer base proud of the amount of good you were able to accomplish together.
Alan Lewis is chairman and Harriet Lewis is vice chairwoman of Grand Circle Corp.