Corporations move to making responsible choices

I had a boss who liked to refer to things that happened in the distant past as “when rocks were soft and dirt was new.” Seems like these days the rocks get harder faster and the dirt gets older sooner. Advancements in technology have a lot to do with how quickly things change, but so does something far more meaningful: attitudes about how our actions can improve the world. “Doing something good” serves as motivation for decisions in boardrooms all over the world.

Corporations today get that “doing something good” has both philanthropic and financial benefits. That’s why programs to improve the world we live in are gaining momentum and why corporations have redrawn organizational charts to enable greater corporate responsibility. “Doing good” not only contributes to communities, it helps corporations meet a number of important goals:

  • Makes the employees happy. Companies that engage in their communities and allow employees to identify recipients of corporate good have happier employees. Happy employees mean more productivity, less time away from the job, and greater continuity.
  • Makes the community happy. Happy communities support companies that support them. Multiple studies indicate preference for companies that support local efforts.
  • Makes corporate management happy. Having been a senior manager at three of the largest corporations on the planet, I can say emphatically: corporate management LOVES having a streamlined process to targeting the company’s time, talent and treasure.

Each of those points translates into dollars, and that’s how decisions get made at companies of all sizes. And that’s why it’s important for animal welfare agencies to understand how the landscape has changed. It’s critical to know how companies make decisions, what they’re looking for and how to best approach a company of any size with sponsorship opportunities.

1. Know the lay of the land (and it probably changed recently).

When approaching a company of virtually any size, the traditional approach has been through an HR Department. For as long as anyone can remember, Human Resources has been responsible for reviewing requests, generating internal volunteer interest and helping to manage the company’s involvement.

The larger companies, like telecom giant Sprint, have created a new corporate entity called Corporate Responsibility. Whether a company has gone to the lengths of setting up a department or if they have simply instituted a formal process to make decisions, the new charge is clear: Companies are focusing human and financial resources on the things that matter to employees, to communities and to their customers.

Corporate Responsibility Departments are good news for Animal Welfare agencies because now corporate dollars are more likely to go to places that truly deserve them. Requests that demonstrate connectivity and return on investment rise to the top and those fortunate organizations often find themselves on websites, in lunchrooms and even part of matching donation programs. Organizations that make it easy and deliver for the company tend create long-term relationships with companies. Which brings us to the next point…

2. Show up with an idea.

Development people make it easy for a company to say “no” if they’re not bringing an idea with them. I’ve been on both sides of the desk on this conversation and there’s an easy way to do this. When I had decision-making authority on what we were going to get behind and at what level, the organizations that won – and they almost always won – brought an idea I could quickly relate to a corporate goal. In the days before the web, corporate goals could be found in a file cabinet in a folder entitled “Corporate Goals.” Now they can be found on the web. That makes it easy.

Several years ago, I ran across a story about how this can all come together in a fantastically beautiful way. I have yet to find something better. Hopefully, this story will inspire your own story and I can retire this one:

There was an animal welfare agency with a facility located across the street from a large plastic injection molding manufacturer. The agency was already getting a little sponsorship money from the manufacturer, but not much. Both the manufacturer and the agency bordered a new walking trail the city had just completed. And that’s where it all started to come together.

The development officer at the agency was smart as a whip. She went onto the manufacturer’s website and found one of the top goals for the coming year was employee wellness. Hmmm. She knew pets have been proven to help lower blood pressure. She was familiar with Dr. Marty Becker and his newly published book about how pets can be terrific workout partners (Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner’s Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together). And she knew the city’s recently completed walking trail was pretty awesome… and free. So she put a plan together: approach the manufacturer about a Lunchtime Walk Program to help get the pets out of the building for a bit, provide something to help with the manufacturer’s wellness initiative, and expose employees to the many great animals at the agency. The manufacturer was all in. More than that, the manufacturer offered up sponsorships to their own clients: a company that used their technology to make water bottles, another that made plastic pedometers to track progress. The idea got bigger, and so did the program. A year into the Lunchtime Walk, the manufacturer noted happier, healthier employees. The agency saw something cool, too: more adoptions. Turns out, the people walking the dogs got attached and started adopting them. Oh, and the water bottle guys and the pedometer company also became in-kind and monetary donors. None of which would have happened if the Development Officer would have either marked them as a current donor or not done a little homework to learn a little more about the company.

3. Make it plug and play.

The best ideas are ones that are just as easy as they are brilliant. As the National Promotions Manager at Hallmark Cards awhile back, we discovered rather quickly promotions and events that showed up in a nice, easy-to-execute package tended to be the ones that performed the best. The Development Officer in the previous example understood preparation and simplicity. Showing up with a great idea, that matched the corporate goals, and that came nicely packaged with step-by-step instructions became an easy thing to approve. So how do you that? Think through the steps:

  • Who needs to be involved?
  • Who needs materials, and what are they?
  • What are the dates, time and materials needed?
  • Who can provide them?
  • How many people need to help?
  • How will we recruit them?
  • How much time will they need to help?

There are many more questions that can be added to the list, but the key is to think this through as though you were the one responsible for doing everything (but you won’t be, so relax). Successful companies, the ones that make good partners, focus on their core competencies – the things they do to pay the bills. Successful partnerships start and stop with the partners understanding and acknowledging levels of involvement. By thinking ahead and anticipating needs, you’ll go a long way towards hearing a “yes” by the end of your meeting.

4. Show them the money.

Many years ago, I was charged with putting together a shelter feeding program for one of the big pet nutrition brands. I knew the cost was going to be a lot for even a large, multinational corporation to swallow (sorry about the pun…it was just too easy to pass up). What made the decision simple for the pet food manufacturer was about money – not what they were spending, but what they were getting. Companies deal in Return on Investment. If you can’t show some form of positive ROI, your program will go down in flames. More good news: You have something companies that produce pet-related products really want. When we looked at traffic numbers (people exposed to shelter messaging) and new pet parents (adopters), we saw a very positive number emerging. It was cost effective for us to be in the shelters because it was less expensive than anything else we were doing to attract buyers. On top of that, recommendations for our products by shelter volunteers and staff were meaningful to adopters. The large number of people and the high credibility of the recommendation became something we could calculate a return on, and the decision to put resources into shelters became an easy one. Understanding the equity a facility has changed the game in sponsor recruitment. The strategic position moves from being a source for donation to becoming a source for new customers. That’s the kind of language that will get attention and earn favor inside any corporate office.

Doing well by doing good.

Animal welfare agencies and corporations large and small share some common ground. Both can do well when they come together to do good. By first understanding the needs of each other, participants, communities and ultimately the animals we serve all benefit.

And that’s something that will never get old.


Tom Tholen

Tom Tholen is SAWA's Senior Vice President of Marketing & Development. The SAWA member has served as President of Companion Channel, a cloud-based digital screen media service that streamed into partner shelters. Tom is perhaps best known in the animal welfare industry as the former President & Chief Marketing Officer for Callahan Creek, which was the agency of record for Hill’s in the early days of their shelter program. Over the years, he has worked for several agencies, as well as major corporations including Hallmark, Sprint and General Electric. A Colorado native, Tom received his BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he lives with his family in the Kansas City area.


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