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Lead Your Team Strategy

Social Responsibility: Why PayPal Pays It Forward (and You Should, Too)

Social Responsibility: Why PayPal Pays It Forward (and You Should, Too) Sean Milliken, PayPal’s Head of Global Social Innovation / Credit: Paypal

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, small businesses could learn a lot from PayPal. The payment processing giant facilitates charitable giving in several different ways, including its PayPal Giving Fund, which allows non-profits to process donations without fees or deductions – plus, PayPal adds an extra 1 percent to Giving Fund donations made during the holiday season.

According to Sean Milliken, PayPal's head of global social innovation, promoting social responsibility is simply part of  the company's broader business plan.

"People want to do business with companies that are aligned with a cause," Milliken said in an interview with Business News Daily. "Giving back, contributing to society, [and] being a good corporate citizen is not only the right thing to do, it's good for business."

Even if your company doesn't have the resources to embrace social responsibility on the scale that PayPal does, there are good reasons to integrate some form of charitable giving into your business plan.

Finding the right cause to support starts with asking yourself what's natural to you and what your employees care about, Milliken said.

To create opportunities for its employees to participate in socially impactful projects, PayPal has formed partnerships with non-profit organizations that focus on helping advance efforts around financial health.

"Employees play vital role in helping take those programs forward," Milliken said.

For small businesses, finding opportunities for employees to engage in socially responsible projects or causes could impact the bottom line, as well. According to a new survey from American Express, 81 percent of American millennials say that future successful businesses will have a genuine purpose that resonates with people. Almost as many believe that the values of their employer should match their own values. Finding ways to help employees participate in giving back help deliver on that desire for purpose.

While employee engagement is key, social responsibility efforts should also focus on encouraging customers to support the charity your business chooses to support. While charitable giving is built directly into some business plans – TOMS shoes, for example – other companies find opportunities to give back that align with their business purpose, even if they aren't necessarily written into the company's founding principles.

Milliken said there are a number of different ways to connect customers to a cause.

Customers are likely to rally around an immediate need, like after a natural disaster. They are also likely to participate in giving that ties a social purpose to the product or service they are buying – like TOMS' "buy one, donate one" model.

Milliken said either approach can work for businesses that know their customers.

"You can align yourself with a cause that is close to who you are as a business that will resonate with people and make natural sense. One way is not better than the other," he said. "[Social responsibility] does not have to be part of business model from the start."

While businesses giving back to their communities is not a new idea, the integration of social corporate responsibility into a business's very foundation is.

"Businesses have a long history of giving back, but I think the models for doing so have evolved," said Milliken, who adds that having the word "innovation" in his job title reflects PayPal's commitment to changing the way the company thinks about social responsibility.

"No longer will companies have a corporate social responsibility department where one or two people sit in an office writing checks to non-profits," he said.

Part of integrating giving into a company's overall mission will be responding to how technology is rapidly changing the way people donate money and support charities.

Milliken said that both mobile and social media are drastically impacting how customers give and how businesses will reach those customers.

"We're seeing a huge move toward mobile," he said. "And that trend will continue to grow.

To the extent that we can embed ways for people to give anytime, anywhere, we have real shot at increasing level charitable giving."

Social media is also creating more opportunities for people to give. Milliken noted that PayPal is making sure it provides the technology and tools to make this happen.

The key to leveraging social for charitable giving is to make sure the messaging is contextual and relevant to what the customer is doing in that moment, he said. Social media can help us find people in these moments, giving us a better shot to get them to give.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.