The phone rings in your office, you answer and on the line is a telemarketer asking for a charitable contribution. The next few minutes are spent trying to find an owner or manager to decide whether to make a donation. This is repeated many times each day throughout the business world. Surely there must be a better way. There are things to be aware of when donating to charities, however, if done wisely and conscientiously, it can be quite rewarding. Stick with me for the next few minutes and I’ll give you some ideas for good-sense—and guiltless—giving.

Charitable giving can be divided into two distinct groups: secular and non-secular, or religious, giving. I personally feel that religious giving should be handled on a personal basis and not as part of any company plan.

In the area of secular giving, there are a number of different types of organizations that are classified as charities. Local charities operate directly in the community. Some examples are local amateur sports teams and chapters of the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, the United Way, Adopt-a-School, and clubs such as Rotary, Lions, Jaycees and YMCA. For the most part, money given in cash or time to these groups is used to improve the local community. Another benefit of local giving is that members of these organizations are potential clients—that is, if they aren’t your clients already. To give to these groups, decide at a company annual meeting the level of support your company would like to contribute and notify the group in writing of your intentions.

Your Donation’s Real Destination

Today, national firms that collect money for many different causes constitute a large problem. Many calls and mailings come from professional fund-raising companies. In many cases only a small part of the contributions get to the cause intended. One problem with giving in to any one of the telemarketing calls to your company is that your company name becomes a saleable item on a list of companies that donate. Instruct employees to tell the caller that this company only responds to written requests. Most will never follow up in this way, and if they do, it’s often easy to file in the round file. To help the causes that these telemarketers represent, consider giving donations directly to the families of sufferers. Or, if you find someone in your local community who needs a particular medical procedure, like a bone marrow transplant, give directly to an organization that raises money for that cause. This way you will know that your money is going to the intended cause. You can also give the donation in the name of an important client.

Companies are also the targets of foundations. While the mission of these foundations sound heroic, federal regulations require that they donate only five percent of their assets each year to remain exempt from virtually all federal and state income taxes. The five percent is meant to be a floor for giving, but many foundations use it as a ceiling. According to USA Today, most foundations focus on building wealth and spend little effort funding charitable works—not a very wise allocation of your company’s money. Remember the money given to any charity or foundation comes out of the profit side of your company.

Common Sense Giving

There are common sense ways that company owners can make a real difference for charities. First, if your company is not profitable, making it profitable should be your first priority. Second, consider giving back to your own profession. This could be in the form of a tuition reimbursement plan for employees of your company. Most of these plans reimburse the employee for one-half to the total amount for any course taken with a grade of “B” or better, to ensure the credit will transfer to other college programs. This type of program is a good way to invest in your own employees and end up with a better-trained workforce. Don’t just limit the employees to survey-related courses, as many other subjects can help lead to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Have a written plan available to employees to help minimize misunderstandings.

Consider supporting scholarship programs for future surveyors. There are a number of ways you could go about becoming involved in giving scholarships. The first is to give a yearly donation to your state society scholarship program, which almost all state societies have. If you want to do something with more direct involvement, try giving your own scholarship either through the survey society or directly from your own company. You could also establish a scholarship program through a local college and pool your resources with other local companies’ to provide it. This could also become a scholarship from a local chapter of your state society. This should be done on a yearly basis to make it successful.

Giving of your surveying or engineering expertise can be a rewarding experience. Many years ago a local Boy Scout group asked our company to help stake out a new building at its local summer campground. The site was a very hilly area along a river with a small flat parade deck for outside meetings. I knew there was no money in the budget to clear and grade the site so I suggested that I get some help donated. One of our employees belonged to an Alabama National Guard construction unit and thought perhaps it could help. The National Guard did the site preparation and an elderly lady whose husband was very involved with the Scouts paid for the building’s construction.

One last note—I don’t believe in cut-rate services for charitable groups. If you or your company favor a particular charity that needs surveys for their projects, such as Habitat for Humanity, provide the surveys free and charge all others regular price.

Profitable companies often look to donating to charities, with goals encompassing furthering the profession and giving back to the community. If you would like to make a significant contribution, consider giving at the local level—it can make a world of difference.