CALL ANSWERED | Stephanie Goodwin (left) and Dara Parker credit Telus for supporting their LGBTQ organizations

For many small organizations, a corporate partner can mean the difference between success and failure—one reason among many why Telus ranks No. 2 on our list of B.C.’s most influential brands

loved-logo.pngWhen QMUNITY—a small Vancouver-based not-for-profit that provides support services to queer and transgender youth—needed a secure way for crisis-line workers to talk to teens, a landline didn’t quite cut it. QMUNITY’s audience is more likely to message via Facebook and Whatsapp during times of stress, so the organization’s executive director, Dara Parker, turned to an organization with unique and deep ties to the city’s LGBTQ community to ask for mobile phones. That organization, Telus, has emerged as one of Canada’s most generous and strategic-thinking corporate donors in the past decade—doling out $44 million in funding, services, products and employee time in 2014 alone. Its community-giving efforts, combined with an omnipresent advertising campaign, has helped make Telus B.C.’s second most influential brand, according to our Ipsos/BCBusiness survey.

Corporate philanthropy has emerged in recent decades as a powerful marketing tool for many of Canada’s biggest consumer-facing brands. According to Bruce McDonald, CEO of Imagine Canada—an organization that monitors charity activity—corporate Canada began staffing community investment departments in the mid-’90s and aligning philanthropy with strategic and business goals. In a 2008 survey conducted by Imagine, 72 per cent of respondents from a sampling of 25 Canadian executives said that giving helps build a strong and healthy community, which is good for business. Fifty-five per cent said that it is very important for their company’s reputation, 45 per cent said that it is good for relationships with clients, while 28 per cent said that it is very important for recruiting and retaining employees.

In recent years, there has also been a shift from hands-off donations to sponsorships, as well as toward initiatives where companies provide resources and staff hours to support causes. In the case of Telus, of the $44.36 million the company donated in money or services in 2014, two-thirds of it went to partnerships: long-standing arrangements with charities like WWF or Tree Canada where Telus underwrites national programs. Sixteen per cent went to community boards, which consist of current and former Telus employees and veterans of the not-for-profit sector; in Vancouver, the board has donated $7 million to local organizations since 2005, while the board in Victoria has disbursed $2.55 million. Another eight per cent went to “cause marketing” services that Telus offers its charity partners free of charge.

“We try to work with partners who align with who we are as a brand,” says Andrea Goetz, Telus’s senior vice-president of strategic initiatives, which includes community-giving programs. “More and more, people are making decisions about which company to purchase products or services from based on a stance on social good and community involvement.” Goetz adds that as the more socially conscious millennial generation grows in importance, community partnerships will become key for Telus as it tries to influence their decision-making.

Since 2005, Telus has donated $950,000 in time and services to LGBTQ causes. In 2010, it also launched the retail brand Caya—Come As You Are—which is a series of Vancouver stores that specifically target LGBTQ consumers; a portion of Caya sales go to community causes like Out in Schools (which provides workshops in schools to fight homophobia) and QMUNITY. Stephanie Goodwin, Out in Schools’ executive director, describes the relationship with Telus as deep and long-term, noting that their support has allowed her team to go into high schools outside of the Lower Mainland and train facilitators in communities like Hazelton. “It’s a workshop that’s fairly highly valued—and it isn’t cheap, it isn’t free,” she says. In 2015, she estimates that her organization delivered over 100 presentations reaching 10,000 students, in 37 of B.C.’s 60 school districts.

“It’s important that whoever we’re partnering with is willing to invest in our queer community, and that’s what Telus has really done: they’ve made an actual investment as opposed to strictly viewing it as a business transaction,” she says. “Some companies dip in and out—Telus has been in it for the long haul.”