How can companies and corporations do good?

Let us count the ways.

At McMahon Associates, an engineering firm headquartered in Fort Washington with about 200 employees, the primary focus has long been on community service. In 2016, to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the company formalized the effort by establishing the McMahon Gives Back Program. Each of its 15 offices along the East Coast picks its own cause or causes to support.

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"It's not driven by a corporate standpoint," said Casey Moore, an executive vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional manager for McMahon. "It's not like we do United Way and everybody does United Way. It's what is important to employees of those offices locally in giving back to the communities we serve."

At its Florida office, employees have voted to participate in a beach cleanup. At its New England office, volunteers have helped with landscaping around a historic mansion at the Borderland State Park. In this area, the Philadelphia and Fort Washington offices have joined forces to serve as guest chefs at the Ronald McDonald House.

"We're real people giving back to real people," Moore said.

Many companies look to employees for ideas or to flesh out a philanthropic strategy. McMahon's leadership, for example, brainstorms with its engineers and staff to come up with beneficiaries. Meanwhile, West Chester-based QVC has a global strategy, but local committees identify specific causes important to its employees. For other businesses, such as the small, virtual services-oriented OpDecision, the CEO sets the agenda.

Volunteers from McMahon Associates make dinners for residents at the Ronald McDonald House.
Volunteers from McMahon Associates make dinners for residents at the Ronald McDonald House.

All three companies will be recognized for their charitable efforts as part of the Inquirer Corporate Philanthropy Conference and Awards luncheon Monday at the Crystal Tea Room. QVC will receive a Most Charitable Cash honor, while OpDecision will be honored as a Most Charitable In-Kind company and McMahon as a Most Charitable Volunteerism one.

"There are a lot of ways companies can do good, can contribute to stronger, healthier communities," said Katherina "Kat" Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Most philanthropic efforts, she said, take one of three approaches: giving money to charities, providing in-kind services or products to nonprofits, or making business decisions that advance specific causes, such as contracting with sustainability-focused vendors to help the environment.

The strategy that a company selects should reflect "the values of the people who work at the company or founded the company, especially with the growth of things such as conscious consumerism," Rosqueta said. "People want to work for and buy products from companies they think are good."

QVC has a "global cause strategy" focused on women's entrepreneurship and empowerment, according to Suzanne Quigley, director of corporate responsibility for Qurate Retail Group, which includes the retailer.

QGardens are managed by a core team and staffed by more than 60 dedicated QVC volunteers, known as QGardeners, who work collaboratively to care for the plants and harvest the produce.
QGardens are managed by a core team and staffed by more than 60 dedicated QVC volunteers, known as QGardeners, who work collaboratively to care for the plants and harvest the produce.

Local community affairs committees help tailor the philanthropic work to employee interests. In its backyard, QVC team members realized that despite Chester County's wealth, many go hungry. About 48,000 residents face food insecurity, 18,000 of them children, Quigley noted.

To address that issue, the company has partnered with the Chester County Food Bank since 2009, deepening the relationship in more recent years, she said.

Initially, QVC focused on the typical food drives. But after conversations with the food bank, it found ways to address the most pressing need: access to fresh, organic produce.

In 2013, QGardens was launched. More than 60 employees have volunteered to work 30, on-site raised beds across two company locations in West Chester. The initiative has produced 8,000 pounds of tomatoes, eggplant, squash, lettuce, and other organic produce that contributed to 42,000 meals, Quigley said.

"It really is a best practice," she added.

In 2016, QVC expanded its efforts with a corporate sponsorship of the food bank's Fresh2You Mobile Market, a van stocked with goodies from the food bank's farm and other local farms that goes into neighborhoods without easily available healthy food. The program also offers tips on cooking nutritiously.

"We're really trying to get that access piece fixed," Quigley says.

At OpDecision, based in Marlton, CEO Drew Polin has established an in-kind program to benefit nonprofits.

The company, with 13 employees, helps organizations cut cellular costs with their current providers. Its business model is built on volume and saving clients a certain threshold amount, which also covers its own costs. Often, for smaller outfits, the numbers simply do not work, Polin says, and those contracts would not be pursued.

But when he noticed a significant portion of that pool included nonprofits, Polin changed his mind. Five years ago, he decided to donate OpDecision's services to groups such as Legacy Treatment Services, the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, and Easterseals.

Most nonprofits welcome the savings. But sometimes, Polin admitted, he encounters hurdles to his good works.

"In my line of work, the challenge is the ego," he said, noting that a couple of public sector in-kind offers have not gotten traction. "The person in charge of overseeing expenses might feel threatened if we come in and try to cut costs."

Still, OpDecision keeps at it, thereby putting thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars back into nonprofits' budgets to further meet their mission, Polin said.

"Ultimately, if you save $400 a month for a nonprofit, that's five grand a year," he said. "Every dollar counts."