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The Five Questions You Should Ask When Choosing a Charity


We're finally witnessing the return of corporate responsibility.

If you're looking for a unique economic indicator, I've got one: Corporate responsibility is returning to the business world.

Charities such as mine were hit hard by the recession that started last year. But just this month, two large corporations partnered with The Children's Aid Society to support after-school programs and provide school supplies for underprivileged children.

The kickoff for the Second Annual Staples (SPLS)/ Do Something 101 National School Supply Campaign was held at one of our community centers. Teen-agers from the center worked side-by-side with celebrities Mark Indelicato, Ciara, Chaske Spencer and Leah Renee to help stuff 5,000 bags with school supplies. The bags will be distributed to youth in need through Children's Aid's community centers.

JCPenney (JCP), during the grand opening for its first Manhattan store earlier this month, donated $100,000 from the company's Afterschool Fund to New York City's After-School Arts Partnership. JCPenney also named Children's Aid's after school programs as its "program of choice" for New York City.

Celebrity photo-ops from Staples and a splashy grand opening for JCPenney in the heart of New York City – from a PR perspective these were successful events even without the charity tie-in. But by choosing to also highlight corporate responsibility, Staples and JCPenney sent a message to customers that the companies are focused on more than just the bottom line. Partnering with nonprofits allows employees to see the company as good corporate citizens who care about the people in the community – in other words, care about people less fortunate than them.

I encourage more companies to enter into such partnerships. As you select which nonprofit to link yourself with, consider the following:

1. Does the nonprofit have a cause that is easily understood by your workforce?

2. Call the charity's CEO and see what kind of reception you get. That will tell you a lot about whether your two organizations will mesh.

3. Check the nonprofit's rating on* which, among other things, will tell you what percentage of donations go directly to programs, and not overhead.

4. If the organization runs a public facility such as a food pantry or community center, show up unannounced. This will give you a feel for the real day-to-day work being done (as opposed to the "dog and pony show" you might be shown during a scheduled tour).

5. Ask your employees to sign up as volunteers, and then report back about the experience.

Most of all, find a nonprofit that reflects your corporate values. And while altruistic motives are great, we all know that nonprofit partnerships present unique marketing opportunities as well – for both the donor and the charity. In this sense, it's a win-win for all concerned.

Charity Navigator has ranked Children's Aid a 4-star charity for 8 consecutive years demonstrating an ongoing fiscal excellence.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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