Givewith Q&A: How technology allows social impact to be ‘seamlessly embedded into transactions’

As social and environmental issues become more important to regulators, consumers, investors and C-suites, companies have begun programs to address sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and topics related to ESG — environmental, social and governance issues.

Besides satisfying outside interests, businesses also can find value in these pursuits — but they may not be getting all of the benefits that they could. So we interviewed the founder of Givewith, CEO Paul Polizzotto, to shed some light on the issues.

Givewith uses technology to help companies match their sustainability and ESG efforts with a nonprofit or social enterprise that benefits those areas. Givewith evaluates hundreds of nonprofits and social enterprises and works with companies all around the world to help turn everyday business into a social benefit.

Q&A

Spend Matters: Can you tell us what inspired you to start Givewith, and tell us how it works?

My path into the world of procurement has been somewhat unconventional. For the last 31 years, I’ve been a serial social entrepreneur committed to realizing the idea that by prioritizing social impact, businesses can deliver a sustainable source of funding for the critical work of nonprofits and differentiate themselves from the competition, drive sales, increase profits and positively influence share prices. I first proved this concept was true with EcoMedia, a social impact media company that directed more than $100 million in funding and resources to environmental, education, and community health and wellness programs across the country, improving the quality of life for more than 60 million people.

After successfully applying this concept to the world of advertising, I launched Givewith, a social enterprise that offers business-relevant nonprofit funding opportunities that can be seamlessly embedded into transactions between a buyer and a supplier. On the buy-side, we’re enabling procurement teams to gain additional value from their purchasing dollars by aligning their sourcing operations with their corporate sustainability goals, which can give them greater visibility across the company, particularly the C-suite. On the flipside, suppliers can leverage social impact opportunities as an incentive and sales differentiator to close more deals and forge stronger relationships with their clients.

Businesses are feeling the pressure to scale their social impact initiatives. What advice do you have for businesses looking to maximize these efforts?

Across all industries, we need to reassess the presumption that corporate charitable giving is a financial sinkhole. There’s still a great deal of CSR departments that are limited by financial constraints and restricted resources. Often, it’s because social impact is an afterthought, prioritized only after the company has achieved its key business objectives. Today, companies need to adopt social impact strategies that simultaneously achieve two goals: generate the most value for their company and maximize the intended social impact. That’s why Givewith is leveraging the power of procurement to generate new sources of funding for the world’s most effective nonprofit programs and social enterprises, while also helping procurement teams become a strategic arm of the organization by achieving the company’s key corporate goals — which in turn, can help other departments meet their key performance indicators.

Data can also play a critical role for businesses as they seek and select nonprofit partners. To match companies with nonprofits that are best suited to help achieve their key business objectives, we developed the Givewith platform, which analyzes ESG data, as well as companies’ sustainability and CSR performance based off robust data that’s important to their customer-base and the investor community — enabling their company to amplify its strengths and improve its weaknesses. The Givewith algorithm aggregates these insights and identifies nonprofit recommendations that will make the greatest social impact that’s also financially material to the company’s bottom line.

Do businesses have to make any radical changes to their operations to see benefits?

Procurement is already an extremely complex function within the organization — CPOs and their teams are tasked with a variety of challenges such as managing intricate supply chains, supplier relations and market volatility, which is why social impact strategies should be as seamless as possible. That’s why we designed our Social Impact Sourcing solutions to easily fit within the existing processes and software solutions that procurement teams are already using for their everyday sourcing activities.

How do investors view this process?

In addition to employees and consumers, investors are increasingly interested in companies with positive environmental, social and corporate governance ratings, considering the fact that companies with better ESG standards typically record stronger financial performance and beat their benchmarks, according to research by Axioma. In addition to boosting returns, ESG metrics are also a strong indicator of earnings risk. In fact, 90% of the bankruptcies in the S&P 500 between 2005 and 2015 were of companies with poor environmental and social scores five years prior to the bankruptcies.

Consumers are seeking out firms that care about the environment. Do you see a similar desire when people are deciding on which company to work for?

I’d argue that the shift toward socially conscious, sustainable business is being driven predominantly by consumers and employees. In fact, nearly 9 in 10 adults believe that it’s important for an employer to have a clear mission and purpose, according to a recent study by Glassdoor. Companies that have social impact embedded in their DNA not only benefit in regard to their recruiting efforts, but also employee satisfaction and engagement, considering the fact that two-thirds of employees believe people are more motivated and engaged because of their company’s strong mission.

It seems like a lot of ESG efforts relate to the procurement and supply chain functions. Have you seen those departments’ profiles rise inside a business once their connections to sustainability have been recognized as benefiting corporate ESG efforts?

There’s a ton of noise in recent years around the notion of purpose and the ways in which companies should give back to key stakeholders like employees, consumers and the planet. From Larry Fink, to Marc Benioff, to Ray Dalio — business leaders across all industries are highlighting the need for companies to make more positive contributions to society. Procurement can play a significant role in fulfilling these benevolent promises by positively influencing the company’s overall ESG rating, whether it’s by adding social impact into the RFP process or adopting more sustainable supply chain practices that reduce waste, conserve energy or minimize the company’s carbon footprint. Not only does this improve the businesses’ brand and image, but it also creates new value by making the company more attractive from an investment standpoint, considering ESG investing is expected to reach $50 trillion over the next two decades. This means CPOs and their teams can even get on the radar of the company’s key investors by prioritizing social impact sourcing strategies.

Can Givewith add value in other departments besides procurement? In HR, marketing and others?

The beauty of social impact is that its benefits span the entire organization when executed and communicated correctly. Once a deal is closed and the buyer and supplier confirm which nonprofit program they’ve agreed to fund, our team facilitates the funding to the nonprofit and precisely measures the impact so both companies can report back to key stakeholders and ESG rating and reporting agencies. Then, we unlock a library of reporting assets to help share the impact internally and externally. This includes prewritten press releases, videos of the nonprofit in action, photos and other creative assets to tell the story of the impact made possible by the funding generated by the company. Each reporting deliverable is crafted specifically for each department, including the C-suite, Investor Relations, Marketing and Communications, Human Resources, Sustainability departments and Corporate Social Responsibility. For example, we help HR teams share the positive impact internally to boost employee morale, retention rates and recruiting efforts. Likewise, we give meaningful metrics to marketing, PR and communications teams to share the social impact story externally to boost brand affirmation and customer loyalty. As I mentioned, we also help Investor Relations teams by giving them reporting guides to positively influence their ESG rating.

What’s your favorite story about how a company has seen its environmental or social benefit plans develop?

A great example of how a company progressed its social goals through its sourcing strategy was a transaction between one of the U.S.’s largest media companies and HP Inc. When renewing its print program with HP, the media company decided to integrate Givewith into its RFP process, enabling them to align their corporate commitments with their sourcing operations. Through the purchase of equipment from HP, the two companies directed $30,000 in funding for Black Girls CODE, which helped advance the organization’s mission to increase the number of women of color in tech and STEM fields. By tapping into the power of this single transaction, the two companies were able to directly support 500 girls of color, giving them the opportunity to attend workshops and summer camps in 13 cities across the U.S.

Spend Matters recently wrote about Givewith’s solution and its partnership with SAP Ariba. What are you learning from that relationship?

While it’s still very early on in the partnership, we’ve seen a great deal of excitement across SAP Ariba regarding the integration. We’re excited to see companies like SAP Ariba prioritizing social impact and encouraging their customers to drive social innovation through their ongoing, everyday sourcing processes. Additionally, we’ve also started to receive interest from companies within the Ariba network who are excited about the prospect of easily adding social impact into their deals.

This Spend Matters Brand Studio article was written with Givewith.

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