Millenials, social corporate responsibility and charitable giving

Moderated by Rick Badie

Millennials, a formidable economic segment that tends to get generalized as being self-absorbed and non-caring, are more attuned to corporate social responsibility than some may realize. Our lead column dissects a recent Aflac survey which shows Atlanta millennialS prefer to spend their money with companies and brands with definitive charitable strategies. The companion column outlines ways individuals can plan and budget for philanthropy.

Social responsibility’s good for business

By Catherine Blades

It’s the millennials. Well, thanks to James Carville, you know the rest. They perfected the selfie and log an average of 14.5 hours of electronic device time each day, so you’d be forgiven for assuming millennials weren’t particularly concerned about corporate social responsibility (CSR). But you’d be wrong. Millennials are the leading supporters of companies that give back: especially those with strong, sustained CSR programs, and especially here in Atlanta.

Atlanta is nationally recognized as a hub for social change. The city is home to the Carter Center, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Corporate Volunteer Council of Atlanta. Not surprisingly, according to a new study by Aflac, Atlanta’s millennial generation has embraced the sentiments created by this city of good will. And that’s good.

But what does it mean for business?

In September, Aflac initiated its first study on CSR and how it impacts consumer and investor decision-making. As it turns out, Atlanta consumers overwhelmingly (87 percent) favor ethical companies. OK, so that in and of itself is not news. But it goes beyond just looking at ethics. More than four out of five respondents (84 percent) say they are more inclined to buy from a company whose philanthropic work is done consistently and year-round with a cause that is relevant to their business – rather than those acting only in times of need. That is news because it tells us that effective CSR for a business or corporation cannot be an ad hoc proposition and be successful in the eyes of consumers and investors. It must be a sustained ideology backed up by ongoing and frequent action.

This desire to work for, do business with, or invest in companies that do good things for the community is strongest with millennials, who have counterintuitively gained a reputation as being, in the overwhelmingly documented words of social scientists and behavioral experts who study demographics and trends, dare we say — self-absorbed. However, in their eyes, social media has given consumers a voice they once did not have, and they make that voice heard often, especially when companies do the right thing, and candidly, just as loudly when they don’t. In fact, Aflac found that more than half (51 percent) of millennials link growth of corporate social giving to social media use.

The impact of social media is unfettered access to limitless information, which ultimately enables consumers, particularly the younger and more media-savvy ones, to be more informed than ever. These are the digitally highly engaged, who have no problem providing feedback to companies they believe are not behaving responsibly. They know the difference between a marketing ploy and authentic concern for the community.

Here is another interesting statistic that businesses in Atlanta should consider. While salary and flexible work schedules continue to be a heavy influence on where someone will want to work, more than three-quarters of people surveyed (77 percent) said they are likely to seek employment specifically at companies recognized for their ethics. In Atlanta, millennials appear to put even higher importance on ethical companies — 86 percent said they would seek work specifically at companies renowned for their ethics.

So, what should Atlanta companies do?

Well, start by adopting a cause that is important to the community and relevant to your business. It’s not just good business; it’s the right thing to do. That’s why Aflac has supported the fight against childhood cancer for 20 years and has donated more than $100 million for research and treatment at the Aflac Cancer Center in Atlanta. It is a good cause. It is sustained and it is relevant to our business. And it’s the right thing to do. As I mentioned earlier, Atlanta consumers overwhelmingly favor companies that can demonstrate social responsibility. It’s no longer a box to check off on a survey form. Corporate social responsibility is required by today’s generations, and its importance is only going to grow.

Catherine Blades is senior vice president of Aflac corporate communications.

By Charlie Jordan

Develop long-term charity plans

The recent decision by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan to pledge $45 billion to charitable organizations has provided extra visibility to philanthropy this holiday season. This gift – one of the largest charitable contributions ever — is a wonderful wake-up call for those who want to have an impact by developing a long-term charitable giving plan.

I represent more than 50 individuals and couples in metro Atlanta that who collectively contribute millions of dollars annually to various health care, education, anti-poverty and other nonprofit organizations. This group includes senior-level executives, professionals, business owners and retirees who give substantial sums to numerous Atlanta-based nonprofits in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

But other individuals who want to make a difference often lack a solid strategy. They are focused on their companies, careers and family throughout the year. When year-end comes, they often make “one-off” contributions that, while useful, simply don’t have much impact on the individual’s giving or the organization that receives it.

These people have worked hard for decades to achieve their personal financial goals. For those whowant to achieve the same potential in their charitable giving, I propose the following steps:

  • Use the holidays to develop a long-term strategy for future charitable giving.
  • Rather than simply check off your contributions by Dec. 31, use this time to build a game plan. Start by listing the causes or charities that you care about. If health care is your passion, review the hospitals and nonprofit organizations in metro Atlanta focused on the services you would like to see receive more support. Don’t limit your choices; if there are several causes or organizations you would like to help, put them on your list.
  • Develop a charitable giving budget. Most people have never determined how much money they have available for charitable giving. Take the time to develop a long-term financial plan, including retirement, to determine the surplus funds available in your budget. Most people often want to give more than they can afford, so building a budget will put you on a path to give generously.
  • Allocate funds to various causes. Allocate your contributions wisely to have an impact on various organizations. For example, you may want to give 50 percent to organizations focused on education, 30 percent to health care and 20 percent to anti-poverty organizations.

Once you’ve determined the amount available to give, there are plenty of long-term financial options to fund a long-term plan. A tool I use often is called a donor-advised fund. It provides people with an immediate tax deduction yet allows them to spread their financial gift out over several years.

Here’s how it can work. A woman I counsel who makes generous donations to her church and other organizations recently faced a potentially large tax bill. We developed a solution that enabled her to contribute funds for philanthropy that could be spread out over several years, but also set aside money for any immediate needs.

Her long-term giving plan included money for one of her most passionate causes, a halfway house for girls rescued from the sex slave trade. But when an unexpected wave of girls came to this charity for help, my client was able to provide them with a quick injection from funds she had already set aside. Solid strategic planning allowed her to meet this need, helping the organization and giving her a tremendous amount of satisfaction.

A comprehensive philanthropic plan benefits many people in metro Atlanta and gives the individual the ability to have an impact on many lives. If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to help others, use the holidays to start your journey down a path of strategic and joyful giving.

Charlie Jordan, a partner and wealth advisor at Atlanta-based Brightworth,

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