Panda Express and the Accountable Commitment to Giving

I was inspired recently by an article in Business Insider that profiled Peggy Cherng, one of the founders (with her husband Andrew) of the successful Panda Express restaurant chain. The article highlighted Cherng’s commitment to philanthropy–which I prefer to call by its more accessible name, “giving.” Giving is an essential part of accountable leadership, for the simple reason that it is part of the commitment that all accountable leaders make to develop and follow a sound financial plan. The way Cherng built giving into the Panda Express financial plan is worth noticing…and celebrating.

When she was asked about the genesis of the Panda Express giving program, which is known as Panda Cares, Cherng had this to say: “Andrew and I came to the US for a chance at a better education and a better life. Our company mission of inspiring better lives stemmed from our journey of humble beginnings to where we are now with Panda Restaurant Group, and none of this is possible without the support of others. We built Panda Restaurant Group upon our family’s core values and the belief in putting people first because of the gratitude we feel for the opportunities we’ve had here. It only seemed natural for us to give back once we were able, and that’s when we started Panda Cares in 1999. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant, I’ve been able to achieve the American dream and feel an obligation to pay it forward to the generations after me.”

Here’s what makes Cherng’s program Panda Cares so remarkable: through Panda Cares, three groups–corporate officials, restaurant employees, and customers–have combined to donate over $200 million to serve victims of disasters, and youngsters in underserved communities.

Now that you know that much, consider these three points, which will be of interest for accountable leaders.

  • Giving aligns with the organization’s mission and values. Not only has the leadership at Panda Express taken the time to identify its mission (inspiring better lives) and values (putting people first), it has built the financial plan around those elements. The Panda Express program is not a temporary branding gimmick. It is part of this company’s identity and purpose.
  • Giving is part of an ongoing series of “teaching moments.” The Panda Cares program engages and educates at least four different constituencies: people in the corporate office who are part of the administrative effort; employees; customers; and recipients of the programs. All of them take part in an ongoing conversation about the value of giving, and about how giving aligns with the company’s mission and values.
  • Giving is baked in. The Panda Cares program has been part of the Panda Restaurant Group’s financial plan for more than two decades. It is an integral part of the financial planning process at this organization. Individual and organizational level: accountability is not complete without a commitment to a sound financial plan…and a sound financial plan is not complete without giving!

Does your organization have a plan for giving that matches all three of these best practices? It should!


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