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“We want the consumer to know that we’re more than just a chain coming in,” says Ferdinandi. “It’s the idea that we’re not just here to sell you a good or service, but to participate. Your issues are our issues, and a stronger community is a benefit both to the community at large and to the business operating within it.”

The data show that consumers increasingly do make purchasing decisions based on a company’s corporate citizenship. According to Nielsen’s 2014 corporate social responsibility survey, 55 percent of global respondents said they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, up from 50 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2011.

Milano has primarily focused on youth-oriented philanthropy and projects that feed the poor, and is an example of the creativity companies are using to design efficient ways to give back to communities. Most recently, Blast 825 Pizza, a quick-fired pizza concept and division of Milano Restaurants, opened a new restaurant in Rocklin, California, and initiated a program called “Blast Buddies” to support pet-centric causes in each restaurant’s local area. Representatives from the charity come in and design their own custom pizza.

Then, for a month, that pie stays on the menu with proceeds going to the charity and Blast 825 matching. For the Rocklin opening, the Placer SPCA designed a signature pizza they dubbed the “Pet Lover’s Pizza,” which raised more than $6,000 for the charity. Ferdinandi notes that due to technology and social media the public is more aware and involved in different causes. “We can get more information out to more people about a subject like feeding the poor or helping animals than we could 10 years ago,” he says.

For customer-facing retail food service companies like Milano, it may be relatively easy to find a charitable cause that integrates well with the company’s mission. Others have to reach outside their core competencies, but they operate on the same principle that a better world means a better world for business as well. “If you had a factory in Guatemala or Mexico, and you were surrounded by villages who were very hostile to you, it would be to your best interest to go out and create prosperity and stability in those villages, so you would have more freedom to operate and wouldn’t have the pressure of security, or the need to move your factory at great expense,” says Stephen Miller, CEO of Dillon Gage Metals, who objects to the term “giving back.” “It kind of implies that business people have taken things and now we’re feeling guilty, so we’re going to give it back to the poor folks.

Most of the men and women I know in business have worked their tails off and sacrificed a great deal for the success they enjoy. So, for me, this kind of work is not a social payback. It’s just plain smart business.”

In 1984, Miller cofounded the nonprofit HELPS International to provide relief and development services for the country of Guatemala. The organization also provides loans to farmers to purchase quality fertilizer and tools to grow corn more efficiently. Executives and employees at Dillon Gage support HELPS by participating in community projects, including installing new stoves and water filters in homes, which save villages hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Other employees participate by raising money or covering for employees who travel to Central America to donate time and service.

Philanthropy 1A RECRUITING ADVANTAGE
Miller notes that people genuinely like to work for “good” companies. “They like to know that the people who employ them are concerned about others and are developing programs that give back and allow employees to give back,” he says. The more connected they feel to their employer, outside of their normal job description duties, the longer they’ll remain with the company, which ultimately saves the company thousands of dollars in turnover costs.

Miller is among many CEOs finding that good corporate citizenship is increasingly an advantage in the ongoing war for talent. A 2011 Deloitte Volunteer Impact study found that 61 percent of Millennials consider a company’s commitment to the community when making a job decision.