kdmgivingPhilanthropy.  We all know what it is:  “the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people.”  But not everyone may be aware that it’s much more than a way for corporations to give back.  These days, companies areoften expected to be active participants – if not a driving force – in solving the most pressing social and environmental issues. 

More than 8 out of 10 people surveyed in last year’s Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study said they would consider corporate social responsibility when deciding where to work (81%), what to buy or where to shop (87%) and which products and services to recommend to others (85%).

So what’s the most effective way for a company to act on its philanthropic goals?

For Toyota, it’s kaizen.  Kaizen, which in Japanese means good (zen) change (kai), is a philosophy that encourages people to think outside the box, making small changes to generate big results.

“It’s a form of corporate philanthropy but instead of giving money, they’re sharing expertise,” says David J. Vogel, a professor and an expert in CSR at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s quite new.”

Kaizen is a main ingredient in Toyota’s business model and a key to its success.  On its website, Toyota — #9 in the Fortune 500 Global rankings — writes, “We’re in the business of making great cars and trucks. But we also work every day to apply and share our know-how in ways that benefit people, the community, and our planet in order to build a better tomorrow.” 

A fascinating article in The New York Times provides more detail, describing how Toyota donated kaizen to the Food Bank for New York City, one of the nation’s largest anti-hunger charities. 

According to the head of the Food Bank, Toyota has “revolutionized the way we serve our community.”  Here are some examples:

  • Harlem soup kitchen:  wait time for dinner reduced to 18 minutes from up to 90
  • Staten Island food pantry: time spent filling bags reduced to 6 minutes from 11
  • Bushwick Warehouse:  cut the time it took to pack one box to 11 seconds from 3 minutes

Corporate philanthropy professionals may want to consider Toyota’s donation of “know-how” as a new role model in corporate giving. 

Everybody’s grandmother, at one time or another, has invoked the old aphorism:  “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Many companies and their employees are already doing tons of volunteer work now.  How many are offering kaizen?  How many are teaching men and women to fish?