On the West Coast, 88 employees have donated 270 hours to assemble wheelchairs that were donated to veterans. Employees have filled 2,000 backpacks for schoolchildren.
For a company like Subaru, with a brand image of being outdoors, dependable, inclusive and kind, those metrics help attract great employees. They also help the company’s marketing campaign.
The numbers are so important, in fact, that Sandy Capell, the philanthropy and corporate responsibility manager for the company and the Subaru of America Foundation, said she had turned to a software system to track employees who volunteered, tally their time and measure the impact of what they’re doing.
“The software puts the efforts in perspective,” Ms. Capell said. “We used to report hours and nothing else. After awhile it loses impact. Now we’re able to put a true impact on those hours.”
To do that, Subaru reached out to Blackbaud, a cloud software company that measures the effect of philanthropic efforts.
“They come to us, and to the market in general, because they want to tell their impact story to individuals,” said Kevin McDearis, executive vice president and chief products officer at Blackbaud. “They realize part of this is about building their brand and enhancing their brand.”
That marketing may also mean as much to employees as to consumers. “It’s getting to be a very competitive market out there, and people will pick a job, and maybe not the highest paid offer, if they feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves,” he said.
In a study by CECP, which promotes corporate philanthropy, and the Conference Board this year, a third of employees, on average, participated in corporate volunteerism, and nearly two-third of companies offered paid time off for volunteering.
But there is no room to fake it. A study on corporate social responsibility found that 65 percent of consumers check to see if a company is being authentic when it takes a stand on a social or environmental issue. That number rises to 76 percent for millennials.
The study also found that 78 percent of respondents wanted companies to take a stand. That’s a double-edge sword in a polarized time. While 87 percent of the people in the study said they would buy a product because of something the company advocated, 76 percent said they would not buy a product from a company they did not agree with.
“Everyone loves to feed the hungry and house the homeless,” Mr. McDearis said. But companies taking a stand can also “drive some interesting polarization.”
In the case of Subaru, it chose well-known, noncontroversial charities, like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Meals On Wheels.
Money for these charities comes through the company’s Share the Love campaign, in which it donates $250 from each vehicle bought or leased to various charities. (In nine years, the company said it had given $94 million to charity.
Ms. Capell said employees had volunteering goals each year, but that the company did not dictate where they could give their time. The hours get logged, and they get credit for them.
However, if employees want to volunteer during the workday, they choose among events the company has organized, like Habitat for Humanity. She said about 1,000 employees gave 5,100 hours last year. And this is where impact measurement comes in.
“Even if you’re just helping five people, those people know those five people,” she said. “It shows that you’re moving the needle. You want to make sure you’re moving it forward.”
Many companies are turning to their own consumers to drive their giving.
Discovery Communications began a program in July to protect wild tigers by conserving land for them. The company, which produces programs like “Shark Week,” “Deadliest Catch” and “American Chopper,” aims to double the tiger population by 2022. It now stands at 4,000, compared with 400,000 for elephants.
“Tigers are apex predators,” said Jessica Beatus, vice president of standards, practices and social good at Discovery Communications and the creator and program director of Project CAT, which stands for conserving acres for tigers.
“When you support them, you support their entire ecosystem,” she said. “If you have too many prey, you have destruction of the habitat.”
She said the company had committed to support one million acres in India and Bhutan over six years.
The company is looking to use impact metrics to see where viewers are most interested in this campaign. “When we run a public-service announcement, does that translate to countries donating?” she said. “That was a big factor. Do people want to adopt a symbolic tiger? How many people participated? These campaigns are only as successful as you market them.”
And they do not all work. The company tested a similar donation scheme to help sharks in conjunction with “Shark Week.” “It didn’t have as many hits,” she said. “People go to the beach and hope not to see a shark.”
Other companies are offering customers what could be called a release valve for their giving. Last year, Evite, the online invitation service, created a system where people could give respondents a way to contribute to charities instead of bringing a gift to the party.
“We literally had a birthday party for my 4-year-old, and there was a stack of 30 presents that sat for probably a year,” said Victor Cho, chief executive of Evite. “She opened a few. But then we asked her why she didn’t open all of them. She said, ‘If I open it you’re going to make me write a thank you card’.”
Mr. Cho said that in less than two years of the charity option existing, the company would hit $5 million in donations. People can choose from 150,000 registered charities. “It’s not for everyone in the world, but the idea was if it’s gift 30 on top of other presents, let’s direct that consumer spending to a cause.”
The Evite and Discovery efforts are supported by Pledgeling, which allows companies to set up charity pages and track their impact.
“Cause marketing and corporate social responsibility are buzzwords that are web 2.0,” said James Citron, chief executive of Pledgeling. “The power of impact is to integrate charity into what you’re doing and track the” key performance indicators.
He said Pledgeling’s strategy is about, “What are you actually doing, and tell your customers the impact you’re having.”
The company charges a fee for its service, but generally 97 percent of the money raised goes to the charity. The company also can track what and how the campaign is doing.
There is yet another way for companies to have measurable impact. Companies like Warby Parker, which makes eyeglasses, and Toms, the shoe company, are pioneers among so-called give-back companies. Buy a pair of glasses or shoes, and they will give a pair to someone in need.
In terms of measuring the impact, the tracking is fairly easy because it is generally one to one. It is simple for the company to do and simple for the individual to understand.
Not all companies that want to do this have it so easy. A new subscription yoga clothes company, YogaClub, wanted to incorporate this giveback model.
Just one problem: giving fancy yoga clothes to needy children is not the same feel-good story as giving them a pair of shoes so they can walk to school or eyeglasses so they can read and learn.
So the company came up with a different plan. Its box of yoga clothes, which cost from $49 to $79 a shipment,arrive monthly or quarterly like a wine club: You pick the quantity, and the company decides what you get. For every box purchased, YogaClub donates one yoga class to a student from a disadvantaged school in Los Angeles.
Since July, the company said it had donated over 163,000 yoga classes to elementary school children in Los Angeles. “It’s teaching the fundamentals of how you use yoga and meditation to teach the kids how to deal with the stresses in their lives,” said Lindsay McClelland, director of partnership and brand experience at the company.
“It makes our customers feel good,” she added. “They can see their purchase isn’t just getting their two yoga pants. It’s having an impact in the community.”