To Give or To Give Back? That’s the Question and There’s a Big Difference!

We hear the phrase “giving back” quite often in conjunction with companies when they get involved in community initiatives or support various causes. I think the phrase is technically incorrect and misses a persuasive opportunity for many organizations.

When you hear the phrase “giving back” it implies something was given first and therefore reciprocity was engaged. It’s as if the company felt responsible to do something in return for the community. However, in terms of “giving back” to the community the question is this: what has the community given first? The more I thought about this the more I realized “giving back” is incorrect and organizations should simply talk about their “giving.”

It’s very rare that a community “gives” to a business organization. An organization files all kinds of paperwork and pays various fees in order to conduct business in a community. The organization then goes through different approval processes for building permits, signage, etc. By law the business pays taxes and in return they set up shop and may employ people from the community. It’s strictly a contractual business arrangement but it’s not reciprocity.

I realize to advise businesses to stop saying they are “giving back” and start touting their “giving” will bother some people. It goes against tradition and it’s very much in vogue to say you’re “giving back.” Again, technical or not, the business isn’t giving because community give first.

I believe good corporate citizenship is good business because people like to see business involvement in their communities. Good corporate citizenship makes individuals want to do business with the organization and that benefits the bottom line.

It’s really the business that’s giving – engaging reciprocity – because there’s no guarantee anyone will respond in some positive way towards the business because of their good community deeds. I don’t think a business should give to the community just to try to drum up customers but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a business entity alerting people as to their giving.

If a company supports a local school, donates to local causes, allows employees to volunteer time for community projects or does something else to help, even though they don’t have to, that’s great because it benefits people and the community as a whole. That’s giving, not giving back, and there’s nothing wrong with a business letting local residents know what they’re doing. Do they hope it engages reciprocity? Absolutley.

So, here’s my advice to businesses and business owners – stop talking about “giving back” and start telling people about your giving. Doing so will be correct and might engage a little reciprocity along the way.

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