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Community Voices: How to set your company’s philanthropy strategy

Marlene Spalten



Community Foundation Tampa Bay's office at 110 Central in St. Petersburg opened in 2021. Photo provided.

Any company, regardless of size of staff or budget, can make a philanthropic impact. But what sets companies apart is defining a philanthropic strategy that aligns its community impact with its values and interests.

The Community Foundation Tampa Bay specializes in helping companies hone in on their philanthropic priorities and make a difference that’s reflective of their collective vision.

The respected real estate company Smith & Associates made corporate social responsibility a core part of its business over its 30-year history. But Smith & Associates had a desire to become more strategic in its philanthropic impact, and tapped the Community Foundation Tampa Bay for assistance.

Every company has a different philanthropic journey, but there are common themes in the ways that we work with companies. For Smith & Associates, we took the following steps to define the company’s philanthropic strategy:

1) Define philanthropy. Smith & Associates team members who have been involved with the company’s giving initiatives came together to discuss their values as a company, identify their interests as a company, look at where they had been giving and explore where they might want to give. The collaboration resulted in a philanthropic mission statement. It highlighted the company’s values and connected them to potential areas in which the company might become involved.

2) Focus the philanthropy. We worked with the Smith & Associates team on various exercises designed to help them navigate the path to determining how to focus their philanthropy. This process led Smith & Associates to focus on housing stability, along with mental wellbeing, education and youth.

3) Determine the giving vehicle. The Community Foundation Tampa Bay’s advisors work to determine how to best structure philanthropic efforts for the most benefit for all. With a community foundation, there are many options to consider in establishing and growing charitable giving funds or foundations, managing the grantmaking process and maintaining proper records. For Smith & Associates, a fund within the Community Foundation called the Smith & Associates Real Estate Foundation made the most sense.

4) Set evaluation criteria. It’s important to discuss how impact will be measured as grants are being made. After the fund or foundation is set up, most companies meet once per year to review grants and address any other official business.

5) Delegate. While it may be nice to have a dedicated corporate responsibility officer or a standalone corporate foundation, companies can designate a committee or point person to work with the Community Foundation Tampa Bay make a philanthropic impact.

With a plan for strategic philanthropy, it’s easy to give for maximum effect. A company’s grants and gifts make a real difference in the areas that executives and employees feel are critically important to our community.

In the end, more companies can make a philanthropic mark – and more causes in the community stand to benefit as a result.

Marlene Spalten is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation Tampa Bay, which connects nonprofits, community leaders, business executives, and professional advisors to make the maximum positive impact in the region. Since its inception, the Community Foundation Tampa Bay has awarded more than $280 million in grants to nonprofit organizations across the country. 


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