Does your business have an established corporate social responsibility (CSR) program? As customers and employees alike place increasing importance on CSR, now is the time to get serious about giving back. Unlike the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014, CSR is more than a passing trend. When done correctly, CSR builds a long-lasting partnership between your brand and your community. And it’s not just for big businesses, either. I’ve written before about how important CSR is for businesses of all sizes.
Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, CSR all too often devolves into pet projects or philanthropic donations. Pet projects reflect the limited interests of senior leadership and often lack the necessary workplace by-in or community partnerships necessary to make them a success, according to a CSR assessment from McKinsey & Company. Philanthropic donations, while beneficial to the charitable recipients, offer limited value to your business. The best CSR programs meet in the middle, combining personal passions with sustainable community-based partnerships that are aligned with your company’s brand values.
Scholarship programs are one of the most popular examples of CSR in recent years that strike this balance. Scholarships make a direct impact on the community by helping deserving students afford higher education. The programs also increase brand awareness among students early in their careers, positioning your business as an attractive employment option upon graduation.
Starting Your Own Corporate Scholarship Program
Thinking about starting your own scholarship program? I recently sat down with the team at USA Medical and Surgical Supplies to learn more about their newly created scholarship program, including why they decided to start the program, what’s been most effective thus far, and how they plan to continue growing it. Keep these best practices in mind:
1. Understand the competitive marketplace. For your CSR to be successful, it’s important to approach it like any business initiative. This means taking the time to explore the current competitive marketplace. What other scholarships are currently available in the field that most closely aligns with your business? For USA Medical and Surgical Supplies, this meant considering which other specialized healthcare scholarships are available, what the scholarship requirements are, and how many students receive them each year. Kaiser Permanente Northwest, for example, has invested $2.3 million in their scholarship awards program since 2008. Sutter Health has awarded more than $5.9 million to students through the Van R. Johnson Sutter Scholars program.
2. Create a program that aligns with your brand values. For USA Medical and Surgical Supplies, this meant looking at the widening gap between the needs of the healthcare marketplace and the lack of qualified people to provide support and care for others.“Educational costs today are very high, and we started the program to help provide financial support to students entering the medical and healthcare field,” says Bill Gustafson, USA Medical’s President. “The scholarship program is the first of several programs where USA Medical and Surgical Supplies gives back to the healthcare community and charities. The current program provides $1,000 to the winner of an essay contest. We are looking for additional ways to expand our student support program to provide more funding for medical and medical-related students. The scholarship and other charitable contributions highlight our commitment to give back to the healthcare market and to support students working toward a healthcare career.”
3. Promote your program. Just because you’re giving away money doesn’t mean that qualified students will apply. Why? Today’s college application process is so time-consuming, intense and overwhelming that students simply don’t have time to spend exhaustive hours researching every possible scholarship. If your scholarship does not come up towards the top of Google search results, it is unlikely students will find your program and apply.Promote your scholarship program just as you would a new product or service: see where students go to get information on scholarships and be sure yours is listed on as many of these sites as possible. Set up a dedicated website page with details about the program and an online application form. Look for community-based partners to cross-promote your program with. For USA Medical Supplies, this could include hospitals or clinics where students might volunteer their time.
Scholarship programs are a fantastic option for meaningful and effective CSR because they empower the next generation of leaders.
“Quality healthcare changes lives,” says USA Medical President Bill Gustafson. “We need educated, caring healthcare workers and quality supplies to make a difference. The quality of healthcare increases as more companies provide assistance to students and donate supplies to organizations in need.”
If there’s one thing you can learn from USA Medical, it’s that to succeed; you need to be a brand with a purpose. And that’s exactly what a scholarship program can help your brand achieve.
Piggy Bank Photo via Shutterstock
If your business doesn’t have a corporate program, you can always work with the Universities in your area to provide scholarships to your employees.