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RBC staff clean up Toronto’s Cherry Beach as part of its Blue Water Project, a project that helps provide access to drinkable, swimmable and fishable water.The Globe and Mail

Companies are supposed to be competitive, but there is one time where executives will share secrets and put the one-upmanship aside: When they're engaged in charitable giving.

Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada organized a roundtable of mostly Canadian-based Fortune 500 companies, government officials and non-profits to talk about charitable giving. The firm wanted to discuss how charities allocate funds to manage their overhead – and to see if there was a better way to spend money on management costs.

Over the course of the day, business leaders opened up about their own charitable giving, shared information on how they donate and worked together to help the non-profit sector. They decided that companies should make up to 20 per cent of their donations unrestricted so that charities can have more leeway on how they use their funds.

It was an important, but also inspiring, meeting of the minds, says James Temple, PwC Canada's chief corporate responsibility officer.

"We can't solve these social issues alone," he says. "Working together for our communities provides a non-competitive market place where businesses can work together to share knowledge and information."

It's by no means the only business working with others to enhance community giving. As an increasing number of companies bake charitable giving into their corporate identities, more businesses are turning to each other to develop best practices, work on joint initiatives and, more generally, help their communities.

"RBC works with other finance institutions," adds Lisa Hutniak, director of media relations and brand and citizenship communications for RBC. "When it comes to disaster relief such as flooding and hurricanes, we bring everyone together to align, discuss what's happening, work on solutions, and benchmark."

Reading data-rich reports

One way companies can learn from one another is by reading Imagine Canada's data-rich annual report, produced in partnership with LBG Canada, which includes information on how much its Caring Company businesses donated, what percentage of gifts were cash donations versus volunteer work, how much they spent on management costs and more.

"It's a way for companies to see themselves in the data," says Nicole Mitchell, Imagine Canada's manager of outreach and engagement. "They use it as a benchmarking tool to see where they're leading the pack, where they have areas for improvement, or to identify ideas that they've never thought of before."

"We get this benchmarking information from all the companies," adds Devon Hurvid, director of social enterprise for Imagine Canada. "It's fantastic to see organizations like RBC wanting to see what other financial institutions are doing, and then strive to do better than others in their sector, because that's great for Canadian communities."

The report can spark new ideas or gives companies the support they need internally to pursue an idea. Imagine Canada also helps promote industry events where Caring Company businesses can gather together and network, discuss charitable initiatives and chat about happening in their communities.

PwC Canada's Temple finds these kinds of reports useful, as it gives their business, and others, insights into how others give. It also puts everyone on a level playing field.

"It's through these publications and knowledge sharing that businesses can understand how to give back more efficiently," he says. "It's collaborative, but it also sets up a bit of a competition and that's important to make sure no one's left behind. If your company is behind, then you have data to help guide your thinking."

As more companies engage in charitable giving, Mr. Temple thinks more business will work together to improve the communities in which they operate in. After all, this isn't the same thing as sharing product secrets or giving away the special sauce.

"It's about focusing on the values of the business and speaking to how corporate responsibility and community investment are a core part of a company," Mr. Temple says. "When businesses share information around volunteering it's about what's best for the community."

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.