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Communicating your company’s pro- + lo-bono work

I have a word problem for you. 

In 2020, Mark’s employees did over 10,000 hours of combined community service. In that same time, Timmy’s employees donated over $500,000 (US) to support local food banks. Who had a more positive impact on their community, Mark or Timmy?

The correct answer is, of course, neither. But, man, their employees made a huge difference!

We often work with clients who want to show their consumers and communities that they care. One of the go-to ways they try to do this is using employees’ donations, efforts, or hours of community service as a metric to measure the company’s collective compassion and commitment.

If you think about it from the company’s perspective, it does make sense. After all, what is a business if not the sum of its people? Plus, for many companies those numbers are honestly impressive. The sheer volume of hours and dollars donated seems like it MUST be meaningful.

The problem is that neither consumers nor employees see it that way. We’ve tested messages and statistics like this dozens of times over the years with a wide range of audiences, and again and again we hear the same feedback. Employees are proud of the work they do together. Consumers are glad to hear what great employees you have working for you. But neither audience appreciates when it feels like a company is taking credit for something the company itself didn’t really do.

If the company matched donations, that’s a story. If you did something to enable or empower people to do community service, that can be a story. And if you didn’t do anything specific to support them but just want to tell people you’re proud of the kind of people you hire, that can be a story, too. But when you tell these stories, just be careful to recognize who did the work and who deserves the credit.

As we so often see in our messaging work, you get more credit when you give it than when you take it.