Friday morning. The management of Bank Hapoalim convenes in the central branch in Tel Aviv to receive the participants in a special event: the sale of crafts by autistic children to raise money for the Israeli Society for Autistic Children.
This is not the first fundraiser at the renovated branch. A few weeks ago, the bank held an exhibition by the Israel AIDS Task Force, and CEO Zvi Ziv was on hand to greet visitors.
Corporations and companies no longer make do with signing a check: The secret giving typical of past Jewish culture is disappearing. Today, even well-documented monetary donations are giving way to active involvement in the community.
Donations and community involvement make good public relations and serve marketing purposes. These days, contributing some money is not enough to get a headline. But not only current marketing needs dictate the need for active involvement, but also the desire of both workers and executives to feel they have done something to improve the environment they live in.
At many Israeli companies, workers are involved in community or environmental projects. Staffers are asked to adopt an elderly person, paint community centers and teach in schools. The Ofer brothers still get a lot of press when they announce they are donating millions of shekels to the state's healthcare basket, but financial contributions are making way for elbow grease, and workers and executives getting out in the field. For instance, Unilever brochures show employees with hoes working to rehabilitate a stream in the Sharon region.
Marketing consultancy Mitzuv CEO Michael Perry says consumers prefer companies that are involved in the community. "A financial donation is considered the contribution of the management and the board," Perry explains. "When workers are involved, the contribution is considered principled and gains greater appreciation."
Perry compares it to a wedding gift: The young couple is happy to get money, but has a greater appreciation for the gift that shows effort, time and empathy.
SuperPharm CEO Lior Raitblat disagrees with Perry. If the point of the contribution is to get the headline, Raitblat says, it doesn't matter what kind of donation is made. SuperPharm donates on three levels: It gives money to associations and organizations it supports, it participates in fundraising activities by allowing customers to donate at checkout, and, finally, it gets involved in community work, such as workers renovating shelters for battered women.
Raitblat notes that the advantage to involvement is the feeling it gives workers. The greater the involvement, he adds, the greater headache for management, but also the greater impact on how the donation is used.
Public relations expert Rani Rahav sounds unequivocal in saying, "the company gets much greater return on a donation of involvement." He said Bank Hapoalim could make a monetary donation to the AIDS task force, but it chose to open its branch and invite its biggest customers to the event, granting legitimacy to the exhibition.
Naturally, Rahav, who works in media, does not believe in giving on the sly. "He who gives clandestinely, doesn't give, as far as I'm concerned," adding, "the donor serves as an example to his peers." Rahav still believes in the importance of the monetary donation, saying the best mix of money and involvement in 50-50.
"The world understood more than a decade ago that businesses must act to change morals in their home countries," says Blue Square Israel spokeswoman Yael Loewenthal Lev-Ran, who is also the chair of "Wisdom Squared," the company's social responsibility program.
Loewenthal Lev-Ran says "a lot has changed in the world as far as politically correct goes. The image of the rich man giving to the miserable poor is not right. If you give an opportunity, you expose the community to new opportunities. Morals build a better society. Giving money doesn't necessarily."
Loewenthal Lev-Ran claims building a moral society contributes to improving the income of businesses. "If you operate in a healthy business atmosphere that gives and consumes right - you contribute to the community, strengthen it, give it values and raise the quality of the world you live in. This naturally comes back to you as a business - a healthy community has more money."
However, working for the community doesn't always generate positive press. Blue Square's activity, for instance, was criticized for exposing schoolchildren in one of its programs to marketing messages from its subsidiary retail chain Mega.
Loewenthal Lev-Ran rejects the charges. She says the program is supposed to educate and is highly esteemed by those in the field of education. She notes the program wasn't created to get headlines, and it is finally judged by the students who take part, who gain important consumerism skills.
Cynics says companies donate to the community to win public relations, cleanse their consciences, and pick up a tax break. Undoubtedly, there is some truth to that version. Nonetheless, maybe the motive isn't as important as the result - supporting aims and entities that subsist on donations.
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