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5 Ways Companies Can Be More Philanthropic in Today’s World

Philanthropic giving raises a company's profile, provides additional incentives when recruiting talent, and can be easier than you think.
Philanthropic giving raises a company’s profile, provides additional incentives when recruiting talent, and can be easier than you think.

A decade ago, most businesses thought about providing stakeholder value in terms of profit. The formula was simple: profit was the prime indicator of your success. For the most part, no one scrutinized what you did with it. Philanthropic efforts received short shrift or were ignored entirely.

Now, with cultural values shifting noticeably toward caring for the planet and our fellow global citizens, stakeholder value looks a little different. Sure, profits are important. But a business that comes across as tone-deaf or cavalier concerning social and environmental issues will begin to see the bottom fall out. They could easily begin losing profits and even employees as they leave to seek employers more aligned with their values.

Businesses that share profits with organizations and individuals who can most benefit from philanthropic efforts not only do a lot for the recipients. They also boost their social image and potentially attract a larger pool of employee candidates.

Giving employees the reins when it comes to deciding where to direct philanthropic dollars is a great way to ensure that everyone feels good about being successful. It also helps employees feel more authentic at work. You empower them to share a slice of their company’s success with others. Who wouldn’t feel great about that?

How does a business go about implementing an employee-powered philanthropy program in the workplace? There are several ways to approach it and some angles to consider.

1. Determine how you will fund your company’s philanthropic giving.

If you’re going to give, you’re going to need to decide how you will fund your program, and set a budget. Are giving funds going to come off the top? You may need to think about a strategy for involving your board in making the financial decisions and setting up parameters for your project.

According to the Council of Institutional Investors, a corporate board must be involved both in deciding whether to implement corporate giving programs and in subsequent monitoring and reporting of the company’s charitable activities. It’s also a great idea to encourage board members to give, which can help set the tone for company-wide efforts.

Is the board hesitant about your company’s narrow profit margin or other economic drivers? There are less costly alternatives. You might announce a company-wide day off for volunteering, for example. Give everyone a day of paid leave and the option to roll up their sleeves and help a local nonprofit of their choice.

2. Decide how you will structure your employee philanthropy program.

You may be surprised to learn that there are several ways to organize an employee-driven giving program for your company. These include donation matching, in-kind donations (like a food or clothing drive), group volunteer activities, or a voting system that lets employees collectively choose where company profits are allocated. You can incorporate any or all of these methods into your company culture.

Consider getting creative and coming up with your own unique approach that reflects your workplace culture and values. You might not be able to match employee donations, like Google does, for example, but maybe you can find another way to combine your dollars with those of your team members to empower their giving. Or you might offer your employees a special category of paid time off for volunteer time each year. The key is that you’re making it as easy as possible for your team to choose to give back.

3. Consider turning to technology to simplify giving.

As employee giving programs increase in popularity, so does the technology available to simplify them. And where software as a service (SaaS) meets giving, we get subscription-based philanthropy-as-a-service (PhaaS) applications, such as those developed by companies like Groundswell.

This technology can help take some of the administrative headaches (such as who is actually going to do the paperwork for those matching programs or extra leave) out of the equation for employers by helping organize and automate it.

PhaaS can help ensure that you do the paperwork properly. They can also ensure that participating team members see immediate results. They’ll feel good about their donations getting to their destination efficiently.

4. Communicate and recruit.

Once you’ve got your company’s giving program organized, you’ll need to get the word out to your team members and to prospective employees. Include information about your giving opportunities on your company website so that it’s easy to access.

Mention your philanthropy program in your job postings. Communicate with your employees via email, printed media, and even face-to-face sessions. That way, they can ask questions and provide feedback on the program. And consider asking company leaders to initiate the process by setting an example and being the first to give.

Also, keep track of your team’s giving efforts or volunteer work. Document with data, photos of volunteering, and share those results, whether you put up pictures in a place of honor in the break room or send out a newsletter celebrating all the good work your team has done.

5. Offer incentives or even gamify giving for your team.

In addition to setting up the structure of your company’s giving programs and making sure the experience is easy to navigate for your employees, you may want to consider offering incentives for participation. You could even gamify the process to give it an extra boost of fun.

If you have a team that lives for competition, you could turn your giving program into a contest. Consider offering rewards for the employee who volunteers the most hours or gives the most out of pocket. Of course, that could leave some employees who have tighter pockets behind. You could create a lottery, with a few hours of volunteering or a set dollar amount “buying” a ticket. You could host a big lottery party at the end of the giving period and include a prize drawing.

The options are wide open when it comes to designing your company’s unique philanthropic style. The key is to include your team as much as you can from the beginning. Make it easy for them to participate. Once you get the philanthropic ball rolling, you’ll be amazed at the mental and emotional benefits your team experiences through the power of helping care for the world around them.

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