Sharpen Your Charitable Outreach by Answering These Three Questions

October 21, 2021 | Zach Carlton


Corporations that thrive have a duty to give back to the communities that support them. Corporations also have a responsibility to enrich the lives of the people who work for them. Often, leadership meets these obligations through charitable activities. With the donation of time, money and other resources, profits achieve greater purpose, and people deepen community connections.


Given the many tangible and intangible benefits of corporate philanthropy, charitable programs have a tendency to get out of hand. Well-meaning team members see the outcomes and naturally want to generate more. And, managers have a tough time saying no to their teams’ ideas.


Why is this an issue? Because saying yes to everything risks diluting an otherwise powerful, concentrated effort. Mitigating that risk calls for the development of a cohesive charitable giving strategy, one that wrangles the passion of your people into a potent force for good. Here are three questions to ask as you work toward developing a playbook for giving.


1.     Which causes best enable us to live our values?

2.     How can we leverage our core competencies for philanthropy?

3.     Are we intrinsically connected to communities or segments in need?


Take, for example, Bank Iowa’s years-long relationship with Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity exists to bring people together to build homes, community and hope. They provide homeownership opportunities for low-income individuals and families. Although several of our core values align with that mission, one stands out: Enable Great Things. The value dictates that we balance decisiveness with empathy and come through on our mantra “Let’s make it happen.” Whether our team members pack a parking lot for a wall build, participate in a Rock the Block project or spend a day putting the finishing touches on a new family home, we are making homeownership happen for deserving people in our community.  


Importantly, our relationship with Habitat for Humanity enables Bank Iowa to leverage one of our core competencies, home mortgage lending. The engagement also serves a community of Iowans who desire to own a home – a segment to which we are, as a family-owned bank, intrinsically connected. In 2020 alone, financing from Bank Iowa totaled nearly $800,000. The funds helped several families in the Habitat for Humanity program achieve greater stability through homeownership.


Answers to the above question are not designed to lessen a company’s charitable outreach. Far from it. By focusing on your greatest areas of impact, your charitable outreach can actually expand. Confident your time, dollars and passions are allocated to the right places, decision makers can allocate even more resources to the effort. It has happened for us. Even with pandemic restrictions, our team has reached 4,511 volunteer hours so far in 2021 across 165 team members and 276 organizations.


Beyond a well thought-out and executed charitable strategy, the other key to success is experience. Getting out into the community, whether it’s swinging a hammer or reading to a kindergarten class, is how employees gets to feel the true impact of their company’s effort. That’s how a corporation fine-tunes its approach, taking queues from the people who work hard every day to help the company thrive.


Zach Carlton is a commercial lender for Bank Iowa. He also leads the bank’s engagement with Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, a partnership going on 10 years of collaboration. Zach can be reached at Bank Iowa’s company NMLS number is 673681.  Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.