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Paying More Than Lip Service To "Giving Back"

So that was a swanky awards gala last night for the Business For The Arts (BFTA) at the Carlu in Toronto.  I spoke with some of the BFTA VIPs before dinner and, sometime during the second glass of champagne, started thinking about true corporate social responsibility.

If you’re increasing your CSR as part of an overall campaign, it takes more than lending dollars to a cause to raise your client’s public profile.  BFTA participants share their business knowledge to benefit the creative talent of its beneficiaries, who may have boundless artistic talent but limited knowledge of how to monetize it.

I spoke with The Honourable Henry N.R. Jackman, former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario and BFTA President, who was honoured with the Edumund C. Bovey award for decades of work with the organization.  He explained to me that BFTA and its corporate donors do more than merely raise awareness of the arts. “Some smaller art organizations need business help.  We provide that.”

Jackman can count the inception of the Lieutenant Governor Awards for the Arts-how’s that for CSR?- among his many contributions to the cause. “The arts can always use money-not just from the government, but from the private sector too.  A lot of artists are reluctant to ask for money.  We help break down that nervousness.”

Sponsoring the arts does more than make a company look good. “Companies are saying ‘How do I bring my clients a wonderful experience?’ The arts are one way to do it.”  says Tony Gagilano, co-founder of the Luminato festival in Toronto. It’s that exposure to the arts, one of those intangible benefits, that make giving back a two-way street.

Of course, there’s the obvious benefit of sponsoring a program that fits your messaging. “We are in the business of beauty and well-being,” says Javier San Juan, President and CEO of L’Oreal Canada, which has been a BFTA sponsor for two years. “Art is part of that. It’s a natural fit.”  And it’s paid off-Pecault says L’Oreal has told him their numbers have gone up across the board since they became involved.

Business For The Arts’ model shows exactly how corporate social responsibility can benefit corporations-just as long as they take the extra step to give back.