As a child, I always looked forward to the new school year. I loved the smell of new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils. I loved the tightness of new sneakers, reminding me that the days of running around barefoot were gone. I loved the thrill of meeting my teachers, getting the year’s textbooks, and walking into freshly painted classrooms.
New school years are full of opportunities for all of us to put the wheels of change into motion. But for many companies, it’s about more than new fashions and instructional materials: Supporting the school year is part of their ethos.
Take Target, for example. In addition to stocking shelves with pencils, pens, and notebooks, the bull’s-eye brand raised $1 billion for schools and education-related causes between 2010 and 2015. Ultimately, it gave more than 8 million books and 16.6 million school supplies for students, many of whom were at risk of dropping out or couldn’t afford their school supplies.
But it’s not just retailers that pitch in. Companies like LEGO and Apple have established programs to support teachers through community-driven initiatives. The FIRST LEGO League, sponsored by the eponymous building block brand, created robotics curricula for grades K-12. Apple, meanwhile, funds iPad partnerships with school districts as well as university initiatives to increase diversity among developers.
Why Companies Give Back to Education
There are many reasons to support education, each unique to the individual company’s core value proposition, mission, and vision. Certainly, these companies want to help teachers, students, and parents, but they’re getting something — and, often, many somethings — from the bargain:
1. A future talent pool
From manufacturing to pharmaceuticals, all sectors today require skilled workers. This is particularly true at tech companies, where talent demands exceed supply. Fortunately, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are already grooming the next generation of employees. Google’s Chromebooks, which once failed to find a foothold, now make up more than half the mobile devices supplied to schools.
This story doesn’t stop with tech giants, though. Wonder Workshop, an education and robotics startup, provides students with products like Dash & Dot, robots that can be programmed to sing, dance, and navigate rooms. Using companion apps like Blockly, Wonder Workshop is teaching kids as young as six the fundamentals of programming.
2. Boosted brand loyalty
If Americans’ affinity for Apple products is any indicator, Apple’s education-related corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives have paid off. Half of all U.S. households own at least one Apple product, and the average Apple-owning household owns three of its devices.
Built in part through its education initiative, Apple’s positive image among many Americans is priceless. It learned long ago that word of mouth is marketers’ most powerful asset.
I’ve seen this firsthand with my teenage kids. They both use PC-based computers at school and have had awful experiences, which they won’t hesitate to talk — or, more accurately, complain — about. On the other hand, they love and are loyal to Apple.
3. Increased revenues
By investing in education, companies can increase sales, particularly over the long term. Just look at Scholastic. The same students who learned to read with Scholastic books in school are now turning to its products and programs for their own children.
Scholastic’s success is evident in its recent earnings report. The publisher’s education revenues grew by 4 percent for the year and 12 percent for the fourth fiscal quarter of 2017. Richard Robinson, Scholastic’s CEO, chairman, and president, chalks the growth up to Scholastic’s classroom and community reading programs. After seeing success, Robinson is also expanding the company’s professional development and community engagement in 2018.
4. Community goodwill and positive press attention
If there’s one cause everyone can get behind, it’s education. Companies that focus their corporate social responsibility initiatives around education do good for the world while attracting media attention.
Enterprises such as Banco Santander, IBM, and Telefónica spend a majority of their CSR budgets on education. None of these companies’ products are education-focused, yet they still see enough business value in education-related initiatives to spend hundreds of millions per year on them. Among other reasons, they do so for the positive press.
A Lesson in Education Partnerships
Of course, understanding why brands invest in education is just the beginning. It’s the next part that’s tough: actually creating and implementing education initiatives. What education needs — and deserves — are corporate partners to invest in it for the long haul. A natural starting spot is to learn about the marketplace and build a team whose members know the education space inside and out.
Have the team identify an area of education that aligns with your company’s value proposition. For example, the tech industry is heavily invested in computer science education initiatives. Why? That sector needs a skilled workforce.
Build a comprehensive, strategic long-term plan with tangible objectives and a budget. Too many companies jump at the chance to support education but pull support a few years into the effort. Be clear about how you’re measuring the value of the investment. An unsustainable program could do more damage than good to your brand’s image.
Companies have the power to make a real difference in students’ lives. In turn, students and the adults who support them have the power to make a real difference for brands. Working together means everyone wins.