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Heart giving charity love hands

Simon Oxley/Getty Images/iStockphoto

As a trustee on the board of Virgin Unite Canada, I'm often asked what businesses can do to strengthen their community investment strategies. Not surprisingly the question is usually partnered with how to justify these investments by giving to a worthy cause instead of giving to the bottom line.

To me, the answer is simple: by building a corporate giving strategy, you are giving to the bottom line. Look at companies like Toms Shoes. In an environment with several competitors, Toms Shoes stands above the crowd with a unique promise: every time a customer buys a pair of their shoes, Toms Shoes gives a pair to a child in an underprivileged country. This business model has set the company apart and built it into a $100-million enterprise with more than two million shoes sold in the past six years. As the company's founder Blake Mycoskie said, "Giving does not just feel good, but it's really, really good for business, and it's good for your personal brand."

So can doing good be good for business? Absolutely. Here are 10 reasons why:

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1. Creates a community for employees. When you're giving back and sharing your efforts with employees, it builds a sense of pride for staff and creates opportunities to develop a community of giving. In the long run, this builds loyalty which translates into retention.

2. Shows your brand as human. A corporate giving strategy helps to make your company about more than pure dollars and cents. A well-known example of this is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. When Dove aligned its corporate strategy around creating conversation about the definition and perception of beauty among women of all ages, stakeholders across the board connected with the heart behind the campaign and got to experience a different side of the company.

3. Helps creates conversations with customers. Corporate giving programs provide a new reason to engage your customers in your brand. While they're learning more about what you do to give back, they can also be brought into a conversation about your products or services.

4. Builds platforms for new products. As part of some corporate giving programs, companies may choose to engage their customers through products that give back. For example, Virgin Mobile has a RE*Generation phone where $15 from the sale of each phone is donated to Virgin Unite. Companies can give a new product a great story by tying it to charity – or even create whole new product lines inspired by their philanthropic programs.

5. Makes customers feel good about choosing you. Clothing retailer H&M focuses on improving labour conditions for workers in Bangladesh, has a code of conduct to regulate working conditions at supplier factories and is the number one user of organic cotton worldwide. While there are plenty of clothing choices, I continue to support H&M not only for its fashions, but because of how it gives back and focus on sustainable development. By giving back, you help to set your company apart and validate your customers' purchase – not only will they feel better about choosing you, they'll stay with you because of it.

6. Platform to work with new partners. Whether its vendors, brand partnerships or investors, engaging in charitable programs that involve other brands serves as a networking opportunity. By working with Bono's well-known AIDS fighting foundation Product (RED), several companies were brought together under a joint initiative, creating a whole range of potential for brand partnerships. For example, we saw Starbucks and foursquare team up on a promotion where for every foursquare check-in at Starbucks, a dollar is donated to (RED).

7. Gives employees an opportunity for growth. By engaging employees in the work that goes in to developing and executing a corporate giving strategy, companies can also give their staff the chance to try something new that extends outside of their day to day responsibilities. At Bell, employees volunteer as Bell Ambassadors to support events like Bell Let's Talk Day and other initiatives that raise awareness and funding for Canadian mental health.

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8. Can save you money. It's hard to imagine, but sometimes doing good can actually save money in the long run. When Procter & Gamble made its supply chain more sustainable by cutting carbon emissions, energy and water use it not only had a tremendous environmental impact, it also helped them cut costs in areas like raw materials, packaging and logistics.

9. Puts you on the map for the best and brightest minds. A corporate giving and sustainability strategy can play a strong role in developing your corporate reputation. Awards that recognize corporate reputation such as the 'Best Workplaces in Canada' or 'Canada's Top 100 Employers' make your company more visible and reputable. This type of recognition puts you on the map for top talent.

10. It's just the right thing to do. As businesses we have the ability and the responsibility to give back to the communities in which we work. And much like providing a quality product or service is important, so is caring about the world around us and making sure we use business as a force for good.

Andrew Bridge is the managing director of Virgin Mobile Canadawhere he leads a dynamic team to build Canada's #1 mobile brand connecting with youth. When he's not at the office, Andrew also works with Virgin Unite Canada as a trustee, championing the fight to end youth homelessness in Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @abridge.

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