Corporate Generosity - Just a Nice Thing to Do and Only for Fortune 500 Shops? Think Again.

Kelly Curran Johnson

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

The meeting room was packed. Several stood lining the back wall. Cameras clicking. Video rolling. The energy was tangible. Another celebrity sighting in Atlanta? Absolutely. A room full of homegrown stars. 

Over 100 Georgia influencers, representing businesses small and large, gathered April 23rd to hear C-suite insights into the exponential benefits of giving back. The take-away? It’s not only the right thing to do. It makes great business sense - especially here in Georgia. So, however you can, just do it.

CEO Forum Panelists

The invitation-only CEO Forum was open to Members of goBeyondProfit, a first of its kind initiative of civic-minded business leaders highlighting corporate generosity, and included an A-list panel featuring: Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines; Frank Blake, Retired CEO & Chairman, The Home Depot; Vanessa Harrison, President, AT&T Georgia and moderator, Rick Jackson, Chairman & CEO, Jackson Healthcare.  Matt Reed’s Georgia CEO co-sponsored the event.

But the superstars weren’t just on the dais. They were sitting in the audience, taking notes and joining the dialogue: Juanita Powell Baranco, Paul Bryant, Rodney Bullard, Millard Choate, Chris Clark, Ann Cramer, Clark Dean, Sonny Deriso, Jr., Sam Pettway, Eric Tanenblatt, Ben Young -- and many more. What inspired these leaders to spend the afternoon in Alpharetta?      

In the words shared by Frank Blake, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” And give is precisely what all in the room were there to do. Advice, experience, partnership, perspective. 

Frank Blake told the poignant story of a The Home Depot associate who, upon asking a customer at checkout what project he was planning, was empowered by the corporate culture to graciously allow the gentleman to walk right through without opening his wallet when he learned the customer’s lumber was to build a coffin for his grandson. 

Vanessa Harrison shared the adage that “to whom much is given, much is required.” She told her personal story of triumph and the opportunities her North Carolina community (Girls Clubs and others) gave her to climb out of poverty and become the president of AT&T NC and then GA. She has since returned with her AT&T teammates to provide free Wi-Fi to the low-income area where she was raised.

Ed Bastian explained how, without pomp and circumstance, Delta financed opening the doors of The King Center on MLK Day, because operating budgets were lost during the recent government shut down. Delta annually returns 1% of its profits back to the community.

Neha Negandhi and Ann Cramer sharing a moment.

All agreed with the undisputed fact that employee engagement is critical to creating a sustainable corporate giving culture: days off to volunteer, company matching programs, charitable dollars for employee hours donated, employee giving testimonials. Strong internal communications is key.

The recent Corporate Generosity in Georgia Research Report released by goBeyondProfit tells the same story. Georgia employees and consumers value corporate generosity. It positively impacts recruiting, retention, brand loyalty and demand – even when (as Millennials demonstrate) that purchase comes at a higher price. And that’s where they want to work.

But what about the mom and pop shops dotting the Georgia landscape that lack the expendable cash flow of a larger conglomerate? Interesting to note that before The Home Depot ever made a profit, they made the tough decision to make giving back central to the fabric of their story. The rest is historic. So, the message for companies barely breaking even or seemingly too small to compete?  Do what you can now and grow as you are able. Time, talent or treasure. 

Several of those smaller shops came to the Forum seeking inspiration and a best practice or two. Jessica Lalley, founder of Jessica Lalley International, runs a two-person boutique speaker placement firm. “Today, I was reminded that while our company is small, we can leverage our client network and collaborate for a much larger give back,” she said. “It might not be big dollars, but we can lend expertise through pro bono or training offerings and still make an impact.”

Georgia CEO's Matt Reed sharing his POV on corporate generosity.

Likewise, J.J. Jaxon, co-founder and co-CEO of Mission MightyMe, a five-person crew providing healthy options to combat the food allergy epidemic, walked away inspired to establish giving as a part of his company’s culture from the start. “I believe in paying it forward,” Jaxon said. “It comes back full circle, and it’s just the right thing to do. Together we can create a wave of serious influence where giving back is just expected.”

So, what are the rest of us waiting for? 

We’ve all witnessed Georgia steadily growing into the new Hollywood of the South. One film at a time. So now, while the national spotlight is on us, let’s show the world how we’ve cultivated our own cast of celebrities - of all shapes and sizes - worth watching. One Georgia corporate give back at a time. 


All businesses referenced here are Georgia goBeyondProfit members. For more insights and inspiration from your peers about how your company can implement mutually beneficial community outreach, visit  

Kelly Curran Johnson is a freelance writer, community impact consultant and Georgia Planned Giving Council board member who gladly pays more for products from companies who care.