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Giving and Telling for Good: Creating a Culture of Corporate Philanthropy
May 31, 2018

Debbie Johnson is author of Give for Good: A How-to-Guide for Business Giving.

2x3Debbie IMG 008Establishing and promoting a corporate giving program or charitable program within a small business may seem like a daunting task that you worry may be a distraction from the day-to-day demands of growing your business. However, it turns out that giving and talking about it can actually help your business. For example, the youngest generations now entering the workforce especially love giving back so now is a great time to focus on creating a culture of philanthropy in your business. Generation Y and Generation Z workers aren’t likely to let their employers NOT have a culture of philanthropy so why not be proactive and integrate it into the fabric of your business now? These five steps will support you in building the culture you want:

1. Engage employees

Actively create opportunities for your staff to participate in philanthropy.

  • Devise group projects where staff can volunteer together
  • Match-make employees to board positions that coincide with their interests and career goals while also benefiting the company
  • Encourage employees to volunteer according to their personal passions, offering a certain amount of paid time off for them to give back
  • Give each employee ‘philanthropy dollars’ for them to donate to an organization or organizations of their choosing.

Austin-based signage company BuildASign’s philanthropic mission is to positively impact the communities of their customers, so they strongly encourage their employees to get involved in giving back. After receiving a signage donation request from the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society for their walk named “Light the Night,” instead of just answering the request right away, both organizations took the time to get to know one another’s culture and to understand what it would take to build a successful, long-term relationship. That simple request became a full-fledged effort including not only discounted product (signage) but also employee engagement through matching donations. A total of 50 employees personally volunteered in the walk itself and BuildASign additionally held employee poker tournaments to raise money for the walk. The experience provided the ability for fun and team-building among participating employees while also advancing the goal of making a positive difference in the community—a classic win-win. The employees now look forward to doing it every year.

2. Make it personal

Inspiring your employees to serve is a great place to start. If they do it once, they will likely come back for more.

  • Create opportunities for employees to tell their stories about their volunteer and philanthropy experiences to others and the impact it had on their lives. This inspiration can then serve to encourage other employees and make it easier for others to see themselves as a potential volunteer.
  • Given how motivational these stories can be, encourage employees to share these stories at town hall meetings, in company newsletters, during group meetings and best yet, by posting photos and videos.

Silicon Labs does a great job of encouraging their employees to give back including offering paid time off (PTO) to make it really easy, and the employees enjoy sharing about the difference they are making. See these examples of how their employees share their adventures in giving back on their internal social media platform.

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3. Talk about it

Your company should regularly communicate what it is doing to support the community. It lets your employees know that it’s a priority and your customers and community know it is integral to the company’s brand.

  • Send media releases
  • Provide updates at staff meetings
  • Post stories and videos on your website
  • Share your areas of focus with your customers and vendors and encourage them to participate.

Red Fan Communications provides a good model for sharing its stories across multiple platforms, including social media, e-newsletters, and during speaking engagements. One particularly good example is when president and founder, Kathleen Lucente was invited to appear on We Are Austin, a local CBS’ TV program, to talk about Red Fan’s philanthropy in Austin because of the growing awareness around the company’s community support and she reflected about how giving back is “baked into their DNA,” reinforcing that philanthropy is core to the company’s values and culture.

4. Model it

As with most initiatives, they are most successful when supported from the top of the organization.

  • Share the leadership vision for the company’s philanthropy
  • Have company leaders model philanthropic behavior
  • Have leaders share why philanthropy and community engagement are important to them.

2Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Home and Commercial Services, epitomizes philanthropic leadership. Not only does he participate in the many events and philanthropy-oriented activities his company sponsors but he and his two brothers created “Brothers Bike”, a 3,500 mile cross country ride from Seattle to New York City to raise funds and awareness for two charities near and dear to the family. As notable as the bike ride became, perhaps even more important is Bobby’s visibility in the local community where he is out front leading his team’s participation in myriad community and philanthropic efforts.

5. Celebrate it

Celebrating giving back lets your staff know that the organization is serious about its philanthropy.

  • Provide acknowledgement and awards to employees who exemplify giving back
  • Hold parties or happy hours at the end of a group project
  • Provide company t-shirts that highlight a specific volunteer event for the employees who participate.

1Salesforce, the San Francisco-based cloud computing company, is a great example of a corporation that gives back while also lifting up employees as positive examples for others to emulate. Its hub offices have large framed photos of employees volunteering all around the world.  These pictures are obtained from “Aloha Ambassadors,” employees who are passionate about their culture. These ambassadors plan volunteer events and then get points for taking pictures and posting them in Chatter, Salesforce’s internal collaboration tool. The points can be used for prizes such as Salesforce t-shirts and hoodies. What a great way to visually show the company’s culture of giving back!

Integrating philanthropy into your company culture will not only foster momentum for giving back but will also attract and retain employees who share the value of generosity. Tom Kochan of MIT’s Sloan School of Management says that taking the time and energy to foster a culture of philanthropy in your business will pay off financially and strategically resulting in employees whose values align with your company’s, making them ultimately happier and more loyal. What a great win-win for the company, your employees and the community!

--Debbie Johnson

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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