Share the Good: How to Talk About Giving Back Without Patting Yourself on the Back

Many of us have an aversion to sharing the good work we’ve done, especially when it comes to donating, volunteering, or going on missions trips. When it comes to businesses sharing their stories of service, talking about doing good tends to walk a fine line between authentically sharing a philanthropic experience and using that experience as a PR opportunity.

Companies who put boots on the ground to stand in soup kitchens, dig gardens, or build schools instead of writing big checks often share what they do internally – on debriefings calls, in team meetings, across personal Facebook feeds – but rarely do they dedicate their efforts to sharing those stories where they can be publicly seen and celebrated for fear of being seen as self-righteous. 

The antidote to self-serving content is to always make the story about the value doing good brings to other humans, not yourself. Celebrate the good that others get to experience through you, not the good that you get to do for them. 

One company breaking that narrative a client of ours, a software development company based in Northern Virginia that makes giving back central to their business strategy. In fact, developing products and developing people has become central to the company’s messaging, advertising, and recruiting efforts. We’d heard from others that our client had an incredible amount of good to share, like building water sanitation systems, funding new housing, and writing letters to sponsored children, but we had no idea the incredible amount of personal impact and professional reach these stories actually had.

Since sharing these stories aligned with business and content efforts, we pitched our client a radical idea to build a dedicated microsite for housing content focused solely on giving back, featuring stories from those who went on trips and documented their experiences, business leaders who attended and brought back their own perspectives, and firsthand advice from the company's executive team about how to build giving back into similar business models. We explained that the audience for this microsite would be triple-pronged, designed to share with customers what their investment has funded, attract likeminded employees enthusiastic about working for a company with shared values, and give similar businesses in the same space ideas for folding in their own giving back strategies into the core of their business strategy. 

To assure our clients that the content we’d be developing would be celebratory without being self-congratulatory, we offered a few pieces of storytelling advice:

Invite many voices to raise the volume on the culture that exists within.

One of the goals we outlined with our client at the outset of our project was to raise the profile of their giving back programs, while also attracting likeminded talent that was focused on finding employment with a company who was as focused as doing good as they were. Instead of making the content sound attention-grabbing through the voice of a company executive or a press release, we wanted to tell stories from a variety of perspectives, including team members who got to share their own personal experiences, challenges, and perspectives, as well as other business owners who got to join in on missions trips and fundraising. In doing so, we were able to engage employees at all levels, asking them to consciously share memories of their missions trips in a way that gives everyone at the company an outlet for expression, and ultimately, connection with those to join a workplace that lets them do more of that. 

By encouraging employees to share the kind of content that often stays tucked away inside – journals and diaries, photos and videos, social media and blog posts – everyone becomes a participating member in shaping the content the company publishes. This not only shows the company as a do-gooder, but one that trusts employees to share in their own voice, curate content for its audience, and work together to publish what they deem valuable and worthy of awareness. As a result, celebrating employees for knowledge-sharing creates a culture of transparency and communication, something that benefits internal cultures as a byproduct of benefiting external communities. 

Celebrate the good that others received, not the good your team gave. 

Giving back stories trend toward being self-centered when they focus on what a team got out of it, rather than what subjects of aid benefit from.

Our client is focused on developing software and developing people, so much so that it makes it’s now a core value that every decision the company makes is checked against. While the company’s leadership places a great deal of emphasis on team member education, enrichment, and mentoring, they do so to consistently add value to employee’s lives so that they can add value to the lives of others.

This is an important distinction, one that should be consistent in the stories the company tells about itself. 

Instead of making the stories of do-gooding about what people in impoverished countries get to benefit from, we made the stories about the impact that many talents converging for one purpose result in: clean water, better education, higher quality childcare, and more financially secure communities that can now thrive.

Tell stories that share the strengths of employees, how they impact customers, and how customers can fuel bigger cycles of giving back.

Teams who give back together are more likely to be engaged at work, work more dynamically in groups, and feel comfortable pitching their ideas to leadership, reinforcing the culture of communication we talked about earlier.

By making it clear that part of the motive behind giving back is to invest in the strengths and skills of individuals, customers and clients understand that they’re also signing up for higher company morale, enthusiasm, retention, and loyalty than any other competition, all of which affects their own ROI.

Now more than ever, companies want to do businesses with likeminded companies who take care of their employees, and whose dollars have the power to do good by association. Knowing that their investment is fueling a pattern of good is a powerful, built-in byproduct of a business relationship. 

Include actionable advice that helps businesses do more good themselves.

To avoid making the focus of our impact pieces about what they did, we gave readers valuable insight into how they did it. We interviewed company leaders for their insight into how they built giving back into their business model, breaking down big, hairy, audacious goals into action items that other business leaders can implement in their own organizations.

Offering up firsthand advice from one leader to another does more than position companies as a leader in the giving back space; it opens up opportunities for knowledge sharing across industries, leaving the door open for other businesses – some of which even be considered competitors – to reach out and access common ground where passions overlap. 

Has your company found a way to talk about its giving back efforts without patting itself on the back? Tell us about it!