Walking the Talk
Q&A:
Tides on the Most Effective Formula for Corporate Social Impact Strategies

Tides works with foundations, companies, individual donors and social change nonprofit organizations to accelerate corporate efforts to address tough social problems.

We’ve witnessed an evolution of corporate social impact over the years — from locally focused, employee-driven giving models; to proactive giving closely aligned with corporate strategy, social mission, product promotion and the SDGs. Successfully aligning corporate social impact with a company’s core capabilities and sustainability targets has been proven to increase access to new markets, attract and retain vibrant talent, de-risk commercial and capital investments for sustainable development, and increase the company’s triple bottom line.

One organization that works with companies to bring corporate strategy and philanthropy together is Tides — a philanthropic partner and nonprofit accelerator dedicated to building a world of shared prosperity and social justice. Based in San Francisco, Tides works with foundations, companies, individual donors and social change nonprofit organizations to accelerate corporate efforts to address tough social problems.

We caught up with Edward Wang, Director of Corporate Philanthropy at Tides, to find out more about the organization’s work and what frameworks make it easy.

What motivates companies to develop corporate social impact strategies?

Edward Wang: Consumers today are increasingly socially conscious and have become a force that can drive businesses to become better actors in society. Socially conscious consumers are not afraid of wielding their power to incentivize companies to give back to the communities where they operate, stand up for social issues, and care for our planet.

Meanwhile, employees are increasing demands that their employers not only strive for profit and bottom line, but also contribute to the betterment of our society by helping to solve entrenched social issues. Employees want to be part of a company that is creating meaningful change in the world.

Time and time again, we have seen examples of businesses doing well by doing good. From the ever-declining cost of renewable energy, to sustained return on socially responsible investments, to increased brand recognition and customer loyalty, to low employee turnover — companies are realizing the benefits of their own social impact.

When a company is able to tell their coherent social impact story, the return on their social impact investments is maximized. That requires the company to develop a well-coordinated social impact strategy, so that corporate philanthropy, employee engagement, product donations, brand identity, corporate advocacy, and many investments are all working together to help shape that coherent social impact story.

Which companies are doing this most successfully?

EW: Tides works with many companies who take a range of approaches to mobilize company assets to create social impact, and we are proud of all of them. One corporate partner we are particularly proud of is CREDO. Tides has been working with CREDO for over three decades. Founded in 1985, CREDO has long been at the forefront of socially conscious business, with a commitment to a triple bottom line built in to its business model. In the words of CEO Ray Morris:

“CREDO is unique because we were founded with the specific mission to create progressive social change through donations and activism. Unlike other businesses with philanthropy add-ons to their products, CREDO’s donations program is at the core of our business model. Without it, we have no reason to keep our doors open. And it’s exactly why our customers choose us. Every member who purchases a product or service from CREDO – whether that’s CREDO Mobile, CREDO Energy, the Working Assets Credit Card, or Long Distance – believes fiercely in our mission of powering progressive change. Because of that, our customers are loyal and quite frankly, demanding as well; and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Are there common conditions among these companies that have contributed to their success?

EW: There are many factors that are critical to a company successfully carrying out its social impact work, but they can really be summarized with one word: people. First off, you must have buy-in from the top. For many of our corporate partners, the founders of the companies are themselves strong believers of business as a force for social change. As leaders in the business community, they often speak up on social issues, donate generously to charitable causes, and volunteer their time and talent. Then, you need a visionary to lead the company’s social impact work. Tides has been so fortunate to work with many of those in our network. They are tenacious, resourceful, and masterful in brokering partnerships and collaborations. Finally, efforts on the grassroots level can be incredibly powerful. Whether it’s an employee-led campaign or a mass-support by customers of the company, the social impact is often multiplied. When a company successfully engages its employees and customers, there’s exponential potential to amplify the kind of social impact the company is trying to create.

Identifying the right mechanism to fund social impact work can be an important strategic question. There has been a lot of talk about using Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs). What are these and how can they be advantageous for companies?

EW: There are many ways for a company to fund social impact work, and it needs to make sense for the company financially and structurally. We believe that a DAF is more often than not a cheaper and easier charitable vehicle to set up compared to a private corporate foundation.

While DAFs might not be a fit for every company thinking about social impact work, they provide a low-barrier entry to jump-start the social impact work. It is an ideal tool for strategic and community grant-making, investing in for-profit social enterprises, and streamlining tax and other documents and processes. By linking our DAF partners, we are building a community of corporate social impact professionals through networking events, mutual learning opportunities and newsletters. We encourage partners to consider various tools out there to meet the full range of their social impact work needs.

How does Tides work with companies on developing their social impact strategies?

EW: The framework Tides uses to guide companies in developing their social impact strategies comes from the Pledge 1% movement. Founded by tech industry leaders Salesforce, Rally and Atlassian, Pledge 1% is built on the simple commitment that a company pledges to give away at least 1% of their equity as grants and investments, 1% of employee time to volunteer activities, and/or 1% of their product for social change causes and organizations. We believe that for a company to create meaningful social impact, they need to mobilize all of their company assets: philanthropic dollars, investments, talent on staff, brand identity, products and/or services, physical space in the community, and corporate advocacy power. We work closely with our partners to provide consultation on how best to leverage any of those assets, or a combination of a few, to develop a dynamic social impact strategy that is well aligned with the company’s efforts elsewhere: marketing, PR, talent acquisition and retention, and many more.

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