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Imagine investing in community improvement – while your money stays put in your bank account! That’s what you’re doing when you stash your cash in a community development financial institution (CDFI).

A CDFI is a financial institution whose primary mission is to provide credit, capital and financial services to individuals and businesses in underserved communities. Nationwide, there are more than 1,000 CDFIs that operate as banks, credit unions, loan funds or venture capital companies. You can find them in every state, serving both rural and urban communities.

In 2007 alone, CDFIs have*

  • Leveraged $621 million with private investments.
  • Opened more than 800 accounts for the previously unbanked.
  • Financed the construction or rehabilitation of more than 4,000 affordable housing units.
  • Financed businesses that created or maintained nearly 30,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

While CDFIs have been around for many years, they’re needed now more than ever to enable growth in communities that would otherwise not have access to financial services. Some of the many success stories CDFIs have brought their communities include:

If you’re considering a CDFI for a personal or business account, you can search by state or “impact sector,” such as small business or housing, at It’s a good idea to check’s Safe & Sound ratings to ensure the CDFI you choose merits at least three stars.


– LuAnne Speeter


Have you had the privilege of working with a business that provides exceptional service in an ethical and socially responsible manner? Well, not only can you patronize the company – and provide valuable referrals – you can also go to the next level by nominating it for an award.

A number of programs recognize businesses that go the extra mile through corporate volunteerism and charitable contributions, as well as demonstrate a high level of ethics, community leadership and professional integrity. While recognition programs are not usually a motivation to act in an ethical manner, they can reward businesses by helping them retain customers, attract new clients and recruit quality employees. Even more important, recognition programs remind businesses that they can make a real difference in our communities.

The following are a few recognition programs that express appreciation for the positive impact of Minnesota’s businesses:

The Jefferson Awards were founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard as a national recognition program for individual and corporate volunteerism.  Beginning in 2008, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal teamed up with the Wilmington, Del.-based program to present awards to Twin Cities businesses for their outstanding public and community service. This year, 12 companies received the award – one per month – and will be honored at a reception at the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

The Minnesota Keystone Program recognizes and honors companies that donate at least 2% of their pre-tax earnings to the community.  The program was begun over 30 years ago and is offered through the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. It also serves as the basis for Minnesota Business Gives, a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation initiative. Businesses that enroll in the Keystone Program can choose to participate without public recognition. In-kind donations can be considered in the calculations, and closely held businesses can include personal as well as business donations. See worksheet for more information about calculations.

Now going into its 11th year, the Better Business Bureau Integrity Awards are presented to companies in Minnesota and North Dakota that have demonstrated a commitment to conducting daily business operations in an ethical manner. The BBB invites nominations by individuals who feel a company has shown an exceptional degree of ethics. Nominees are then categorized according to company size, based on number of employees. A panel of independent volunteer business and community leaders reviews the entries and decides on the winners.

Minnesota Business Ethics Award was established in 1999 by the Twin Cities Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas. The MBEA Program seeks to raise the standards for business ethics in Minnesota and to recognize businesses that reflect the highest standards of ethical performance.  Like the BBB’s Integrity Awards Program, MBEA recipients are selected based on company size. A business may be nominated for an award by a customer, client, employee, vendor or a private citizen who is impressed with a company’s ethical business conduct. Local finalists may also move on to compete at the national level.

– LuAnne Speeter

When it comes to charitable giving, most of us assume that corporations and foundations carry the load. However, according to the Giving Institute/Giving USA Foundation, 75% of the $307 billion contributed in 2008 came from individuals and 7% from bequests. Corporations and foundations provided 5% and 13% of charitable contributions, respectively.

Individuals tend to be even more generous when they take part in an increasingly popular phenomenon known as “giving circles.”

A giving circle is a social group in which individual participants pool their donations and decide together where the money should be distributed. A study released in May 2009, “The Impact of Giving Together,” shows that those within a giving circle tend to contribute more than if they were to give on their own. Giving circles exert significant influence in other ways, as well. According to the study:

  • Giving circle participants are more strategic about cause selections. Members put more effort into researching organizations and give toward a specified vision for change.
  • They have a more long-term perspective and are more likely to make multi-year gifts.
  • Members give to a broader array of causes, especially those that support women, ethnic and minority groups, the arts and culture, neighborhood development, advocacy and international aid.
  • Giving circle members also express a stronger sense of civic responsibility, channeling their energies into community involvement and changing government policies.
  • Participants gain a greater understanding of philanthropy and the issues that nonprofits face in serving their constituencies.
  • They believe they have better leverage in affecting change in the community, that giving can have a positive impact on the health of the community, and government should do something to reduce income differences.

If you’re interested in starting your own giving circle, start by researching through the Minnesota Council on Foundations or your own regional resource. Make it your primary goal to help foster a greater level of commitment from members, thereby increasing your ability to influence positive results. Also, think about the size of the group; larger groups tend to focus more on the strategic giving aspects, whereas smaller circles value civic engagement and volunteerism.

– LuAnne Speeter

Maybe it’s shyness, humility or simply Minnesota Nice. But many small business owners around the state are keeping the good they do for charity to themselves. Whether they’ve contributed a check, a percentage of annual sales or employee volunteer hours, some companies never get the word out to the public.

That’s a shame.

By being quiet, you could be depriving your cause. Your donation is only a portion of the potential benefits your chosen charity will derive from your partnership. If you really want to maximize your effectiveness, take on the role as ambassador. That means you could:

  • Show photos of your volunteers in action on your Web site, on your company’s Facebook page or in your newsletter.
  • Include the cause’s logo on your home page and add your commitment, such as “2% of every dollar you spend with us is donated to help [cause name] achieve its goals.”
  • Display your cause’s logo with photos at point-of-sale locations.
  • Talk about your cause – world of mouth is the most powerful influencer.
  • Submit press releases about your cause partnership to local newspapers. Increase the odds of it being picked up by including a human interest story, too.

Minnesota businesses are generous. According to a 2002 survey of 595 companies conducted through Building Business Investment in Community,* the vast majority of businesses make cash contributions to their favorite charities:

Business size by # of employees

% of businesses making cash contributions









In addition, many companies donate products, sponsor scholarships and events, contribute employee hours to school and community projects, and serve on nonprofit or agency boards. Add more impact to your generosity and dedication. Tell the community about your partnership, give information about the cause and provide others with a way to contribute, too.

*A project of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and 12 Minnesota business and philanthropic organizations.

– LuAnne Speeter

A growing number of graduate students are seeking to specialize in social entrepreneurship – the development of for-profit companies that deliver socially responsible products or services, or are tied to social causes. As a response, business schools are tailoring their curricula to accommodate their interests.

The following are a few graduate programs that address this new paradigm:

The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School explores such models as venture philanthropy and an ethical stock exchange – an alternative that is less focused on financial and more on environmental and social returns than the traditional exchange model.

The Allwin Initiative for Corporate Citizenship is an on-campus group at Tuck School of Business located at Dartmouth College. The vision of the Allwin Initiative is to embue Tuck students with “a heightened social conscience, a strong sense of business ethics, an understanding of social enterprise, and a familiarity with the management tools that facilitate corporate responsibility and community involvement.”

The Center for Responsible Business at the University of California at Berkely/Haas School of Business was founded in 2003 thanks to the generosity of actor/philanthropist Paul Newman, among others. The Center offers an integrated portfolio of research, teaching, experiential learning and outreach.

According to the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University’s The Johnson School, solutions to environmental and social problems “are business opportunities, not a cost of doing business.” The program includes such courses as Sustainability as a Driver for Innovation in the Entrepreneurial Organization and Corporate Social Responsibility: Organizational Issues.

A number of conditions within the U.S. and globally could be driving today’s budding entrepreneurs to have a deeper sense of social and environmental responsibility, such as:

  • A natural outgrowth of our more socially aware society.
  • A tightening of the job market, leading to more creative start-up ventures.
  • A reaction to the financial crisis and what is interpreted as Wall Street greed.
  • An opportunity for laid-off employees to find greater meaning in their next career stage.

In any case, we can look forward to an era of significant social and environmental solutions by for-profit businesses. If they do it right, they will do well by doing good.

– LuAnne Speeter

Many charitable organizations make donating to their causes as easy for consumers as purchasing from a favorite online vendor. You’ve probably seen the “Donate Now” buttons on pop-up windows for a merchant’s charity or on e-mail messages from politicians.

A new program – – is set to launch on Nov. 2 and will enable participating charities in Minnesota to not only provide online donation capabilities, but a number of other features to facilitate giving. For example, donors can search for a charity based on type of cause – such as an animal shelter or free clinic – or by location. Plus, donors can track their donations to various charities in one location, making reporting easier at tax time.

Better still, gives donors the tools to generate group giving through social media sites, such as Facebook. And, depending on the charity, you’ll be able to designate how your donation will be used.

While is directed to individual donors, it can easily be adapted for use by business owners, too. For example, consider sending an e-mail blast to your customers specifically to promote a cause – preferably one that is rooted in your community – and include a donation button. Draw readers in by explaining your personal commitment to the cause or tell the story of an individual whose life could be made better by your customers’ support. Begin a Facebook page dedicated to the cause to track the donations and invite your customers to share their thoughts or experiences. 

With the holiday season and end-of-year giving nearly upon us, now is the perfect time to select a cause for your business. Online giving makes it easy to launch a fundraising program and generate support that could make a real difference in your community.

– LuAnne Speeter

apple in the handMost companies have a corporate mission statement. Sometimes they’re rather predictable, like Dell’s:

“Dell’s mission is to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.”

Other mission statements are more inspired and true-to-brand, like Coca-Cola’s:

“To refresh the world…to inspire moments of optimism and happiness…to create value and make a difference.”

But consumers today are often seeking more than a corporate mission from the companies they do business with. Studies show they’re more likely to buy from companies who stand for something of social or environmental value. (See “5 steps to enhance your brand with cause marketing.”)

At the same time, many businesses are proactively seeking to make a difference in their communities – or even globally – beyond the visions and values that comprise their corporate mission. In many cases, that may require adding a social mission into the mix.

A social mission ties your social initiatives to your corporate mission and gives them authenticity. While your corporate mission communicates how your company makes a difference through its profits, your social mission addresses your commitment to having an impact beyond profit.

Starbucks is an example of a company with two missions. We’re familiar with the corporate:

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

The company’s social mission is evident, not only through its environmental mission statement –

 “Starbucks is committed to a role of environmental leadership in all facets of our business”

– but also in other prominent features on its Web site: A home page video about The Food Project, Starbucks Shared Planet project and its customizable Global Responsibility Report.

Ben & Jerry’s, an organization renowned for its social activism, has not one, not two, but three parts to its mission statement: social, product and economic. Speaking at the 2009 CECP Corporate Philanthropy Summit, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Walt Freese stated that “a company’s overall marketing mission should be separate from its social mission even if they at times join forces. Consumers need to understand that your social mission is coming from a genuine place.”

When determining your own social mission and initiatives, choose what works well with your corporate mission and your core products and services. For example, Western Union’s core service and tagline, “Connecting families around the world,” is in perfect unison with its Our World, Our Family program. Such authenticity will only enhance your brand reputation while contributing to the greater good.

– LuAnne Speeter

TCCVM provides voice mail services for homeless and low-income families.

TCCVM provides voice mail services for homeless and low-income families.

As the recession drags on, charitable outreach is changing to reflect today’s dire economic situation locally and nationally.

A recent report from the National Conference on Citizenship (NCOC) shows that 72% of Americans are cutting back on community volunteerism and charitable giving – often because they are focusing on needs in the home. Baby boomers in particular are caught between caring for their elderly parents and taking adult children back into their homes. According to the NCOC’s “America’s Civic Health Index 2009: Civic Health in Hard Times,” there is an increase in the portion of young people living with their parents. In 2009, 52.5% of 18- to 24-year-olds reported living with their parents, up from 50% in 2007.  So it’s not that people aren’t as charitable, but rather the focus has turned toward immediate family needs.

U.S. businesses can play a significant role in helping overcome the shortfall by offering charitable opportunities at work. In fact, the NCOC report showed that employed baby boomers were by far more likely to volunteer (45%) than those who were not working due to retirement, disability or layoffs (23%). By partnering with a charitable organization, a business can help provide a major boost through donations, matching gifts, volunteering or cause marketing.

A charity that provides a particularly critical service during this economy is the Twin Cities Community Voice Mail.* TCCVM offers free voice mail to homeless and low-income people who don’t own their own phones. Through TCCVM, recipients can maintain communications for such vital needs as employment, housing, health care, safety from domestic abuse and child care, enabling greater self-sufficiency. In fact, you and/or your company can join the TCCVM Walk in Minnehaha Park on Saturday, Sept. 27.

Your company’s support of TCCVM, Families Moving Forward or other organizations empowering self-sufficiency delivers important help during times of transition for individuals and families – more crucial than ever in this economic environment.

*TCCVM is part of a national organization, Community Voice Mail.

– LuAnne Speeter

Related posts:

I’ve used a lot of “ink” in past posts talking about the dividends that corporate social responsibility returns to a company – e.g., enhancing the brand, attracting quality employees, generating “buzz” and increasing revenue.

However, you’re doing more than you know for a cause by partnering with nonprofits. The impact you have goes well beyond your investment of money, time or other resources.

In Cone’s new study, “Past, Present, Future. The 25th Anniversary of Cause Marketing,” it’s revealed that “many Americans stated they were more likely to lend support and advocate for a charity upon learning about its corporate partnerships.”



More Likely

Less Likely

No Difference

Tell a friend about the charity




Donate money to the charity




Participate in the charity’s programs and events




Volunteer for the charity




Source: Cone, LLC


To increase effectiveness, companies should consider committing to a long-term (minimum three-year) relationship with a nonprofit. Your relationship should consist of more than fundraising – consider providing resources as well, such as products, services or expertise that the organization may otherwise not have access to. For example, Datagram donates Web hosting services to the nonprofit charity:water.

By partnering with other companies, businesses can be an even more formidable force in achieving results for a nonprofit or government agency. Business Roundtable, an association of 160 chief executive officers of leading U.S. corporations, launched Partnership for Disaster Response shortly after the Asian tsunami. The Partnership draws from the unique resources of its member companies to provide relief and recovery in the event of a natural disaster.

While the Partnership for Disaster Response is comprised of top Fortune 500 corporations, even small to midsized businesses can form coalitions to solve many of the needs of a community, county or state. For example, several businesses could jointly sponsor Thanksgiving dinner for community members in need, each company providing different services, from food, kitchen help and servers to publicity and bus shuttles.

View your corporate social responsibility program as relationships – not just performing an activity or fulfilling an obligation. By doing so, you’ll better appreciate the rewards that go both ways.

– LuAnne Speeter

Is your marketing too shallow?

Today’s consumers are weary of obvious salesy rhetoric and ignore a majority of the bazillion ads they encounter every day. And as the recession wears on and unemployment rates remain high, many are reevaluating their life choices, turning from materialistic interests and seeking deeper meaning for greater satisfaction.

Some companies are acknowledging this search for meaning and are finding creative ways to provide greater value in their marketing. The marketing itself is improving consumers’ lives by helping them meet deeper needs while helping to enhance the brand name.

Are consumers in general more “enlightened” than in previous generations? You wouldn’t know if by watching “Bridezillas,” but there are signs that consumers are more evolved than we give them credit for. It’s obvious, for example, that green living is no longer just a grassroots movement but a corporate mission for most companies. And a recent study shows that volunteerism is on the rise.

The drive to find greater personal fulfillment by many in the population was acknowledged decades ago by humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow defined five levels of human needs that range from the very basic to very high-level. In a nutshell, the five levels are:

  1. Physiological. Needs that are basic to survival, such as water, air, food and sleep
  2. Security. Needs for safety and security, including steady employment, safe neighborhoods, health care insurance, shelter
  3. Social. Needs for belonging, love and affection
  4. Esteem. Needs for things that reflect personal worth, social recognition, accomplishment
  5. Self-actualizing.* Needs for pursuing personal growth and fulfilling one’s potential

*”What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

– Abraham Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review 50, 370-96

This hierarchy is brought into a marketing context in a new book due to be released in October 2009. Written by Bob Gilbreath, “The Next Revolution in Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning” encourages marketers to be aware of the different need levels of our audiences and offer value in our marketing to help fulfill them. Gilbreath created a three-tiered marketing hierarchy (yes, another hierarchy) loosely based on Maslow’s.  

Level 1: solution marketing adds value to those seeking to fulfill more basic needs. Such marketing efforts could include money-saving coupons, rebates and rewards programs.

Level 2: connection marketing delivers value to those seeking more social or creative expression and corresponds to Maslow’s middle category.

Level 3: achievement marketing is aligned with Maslow’s peak level of self-actualization and seeks to empower people to improve their own lives or communities. Gilbreath points to a few campaigns, such as Home Depot’s home improvement training, Abbot Nutrition’s online diabetes management tool and Dove Soap’s Campaign for Real Beauty, that help enhance people’s lives while subtly promoting their brand.

Consumers are looking for something worthwhile. If your marketing is offering something worthwhile, chances are good they’ll pay better attention.

– LuAnne Speeter


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