Why We Give

Corporate Philanthropy: It's Everyone's Business

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Mike Sprouse
Mike Sprouse
In early 2008, I was thinking about how Epic Advertising's marketing efforts could have a global impact in nontraditional ways. At the time, we didn't have a huge budget to commit for items outside our core business expenditures or that couldn't be measured by the almighty ROI. Our company is in the interactive marketing space, and close to 100% of our expenses were related to our industry and how we could advance our competitive position.

We were going through a lot of changes during that time, and I was doing a lot of "macro" thinking, which led me to realize we weren't doing as much as we should for the greater good. And we certainly weren't the only ones. In our particular sector, online direct response marketing and customer acquisition, I could not think of one company that had any type of philanthropic program to speak of, or at least one with any visibility.

My personal background has always involved an element of community service and giving back. It was embedded in me at a young age, and for that I am fortunate. Now, a few decades later, I realized that no one in my chosen industry of digital marketing had a robust philanthropy program. It was time to take action.

Our implementation came in steps. We initially instituted a modest "green program," thinking that if we could help the planet and save a few dollars in the process, we could reinvest those dollars elsewhere. After a successful launch and some savings, I put aside a small amount of funds earmarked for charitable contributions. When I say "small amount," I'm talking less than 0.05% of the company's revenue at the time. Because there are so many worthwhile charities, I polled our 120 employees to find out which causes are nearest and dearest to their hearts. Rather than support one or two charities, we decided we would support many and make monthly or bimonthly contributions to deserving organizations.

By mid-2008, we announced new charity effort in our company newsletter. Within five days, we got an inquiry from one of our clients for a philanthropic effort. What timing! With that, our program was launched through our sponsorship and participation in Timmy's Tour de Shore, a bike race supporting pediatric brain tumor research.

After we had made donations and put a few of the thank-you letters we received on our company wall, the program really started to take shape and I began to understand how many terrific causes our employees are involved in. For example, I know one fellow executive very well, yet I had no idea he was on the board of the Joel A. Gringas Jr. Memorial Fund, supporting brain tumor research. Another friend/employee is a major supporter of Animal Haven, a nonprofit that finds homes for abandoned cats and dogs.

For me, it was the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Fund, supporting cancer research and diagnosis. I knew Mr. Blake when I was growing up, and you might know one or both of his sons, James and Thomas, who were professional tennis players.

Epic Advertising throws a lot of client entertainment events at Madison Square Garden. I began learning about the Garden of Dreams Foundation, aimed at making dreams come true for kids in crisis. I started noticing ads for the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and I began to research this, only to find out a childhood friend is a major supporter and is personally involved with St. Jude's. All throughout 2008 and 2009, people were coming forward to ask for our help supporting charities that meant a lot to them.

We've expanded the program in 2010. The breadth of philanthropic contributions and time and resource donations has surpassed what I expected two years ago. As far as I know, we've crafted a program that is as comprehensive as any other company's, but also one that doesn't just randomly pick one charity to support: each one has to have a special meaning to our staff or valued clients.

People often ask me why our company went this direction, particularly as most corporations were tightening their belts. It is because I believed that (1) we could, if we just thought about how to make resources available; (2) we should; and (3) it was our responsibility to do so. Someone once asked if we were doing this for a self-serving reason; for about a second, I was offended. But then I answered: "If by self-serving, you mean helping support those charities that our very own employees support, then I guess we are."

For me personally, the program has taught me how passionate people are about giving back. I can also tell you that for the rest of my career, wherever the road takes me, I will always make sure philanthropy is part of our corporate mix. It's a cliché but true: It doesn't have to be a lot of money or a lot of time, because a little bit goes a long way. The key is to just start.

Mike Sprouse is CMO of Epic Advertising, a New York-based online marketing company.
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