For most people, work and charity are distinctly separate parts of life—but it doesn’t have to be that way.
By integrating charitable giving into your place of business, you can build a productive workplace where employees are inspired to give, both to their company and to the community that surrounds them. Creating a corporate giving program means that “employees get to have a stake in the company’s philanthropy,” says Lindsay Siegel, associate director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. “It creates a tremendous sense of loyalty.”
Whether you’re the head of the company, or an employee who wants to help boost company morale and use the power of the group to do good things, here are a few simple tips for implementing a corporate giving program in your own workplace.
1. Form a giving group.
Four years ago, Bettye Harrison, president of the Denver-based company Video Professor, and several of her staff members decided to create a club called Seasons, which is dedicated to doing good. The group, which has since swelled to about fifty members, holds several fundraisers and food drives each year, and donates its proceeds to the Salvation Army, the local Jefferson County Action Center, a fund for Video Professor employees in need and “an ongoing soldier program, sending supplies to men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Harrison.
In addition to helping others, the Seasons club has been a tremendous boost to staff morale. “When businesses reach a level of success, it’s time, and probably past time, to give back to the community,” says Harrison. “It’s very important to me and to employees to give them a way to be organized about giving and allow them that opportunity to give back to the community.”
A charitable program in the workplace can also replace the typical staff retreats in terms of creating a supportive team environment. In the Seasons club, “managers and staff are all working together,” says Brian Olson, Video Professor’s vice president of public affairs. “That’s the great unifier. I get to meet people in the company and make friends with people that otherwise I probably wouldn’t get to know.”
2. Share your professional skills.
Many companies, both large and small, give their employees the opportunity to do pro bono work for nonprofit clients during work hours. At Palm Beach Media Associates, Inc., in Boca Raton, Fla., CEO Rita Johnson requests proposals from nonprofits about their marketing and promotional needs, and selects one organization to support. “Each year, the selected charity receives 120 hours of creative time from our team, in the hopes of helping the organization successfully market themselves and raise money,” says spokeswoman Elizabeth Hannum.
3. Give away your goods.
For Jeremy Shepherd, president of the online retailer PearlParadise.com, the decision to create a corporate giving program was based on simple resourcefulness. While on a trip to China, Shepherd was forced to fill out a wholesale order with a box of 2,000 strands of pearls that didn’t fit his standard sizing. Instead of selling them at a discount, Shepherd decided to donate the pearls to nonprofit groups for use in charity auctions. The company had only planned to run the special offer through the year, but “the response was so tremendous that we decided to keep it running indefinitely,” Shepherd says. Now, he purchases excess pearls exclusively for charity donations, and has hired an employee to sort through nonprofits’ requests. The giving program “created a good vibe in the office,” Shepherd says. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
4. Create relevant partnerships.
When you’re planning to engage in corporate philanthropy, think about what your company itself can do for others “What are your resources, and how can they be applied in a new way that can really help a nonprofit,” Siegel says.
As an example of corporate philanthropy done right, Siegel cites a collaboration between Community Voicemail, a small nonprofit group dedicated to providing free voicemail services to homeless people, and telecommunications giant Cisco. “They developed an incredible partnership with Cisco, which created infrastructure to provide a nationwide network,” she says. “As a result the nonprofit...touches on tens of thousands of people.”
5. Consider the benefits.
No matter what approach you take in bringing philanthropy to the workplace, you’ll find that the joy of doing good is far from the only reward—in fact, corporate giving makes great business sense.
A strong commitment to charity can help with recruiting great employees, Seigel says: “The younger generation is looking to work for companies that match their own values. In terms of brand reputation and positive good will in the community toward the company, there’s a direct benefit.” A philanthropic program can also help a business raise brand awareness and build up positive word-of-mouth, she adds.
But one reason for businesses to give back to their communities trumps all the rest, says Seigel: “First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do.”
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