Creating workplace philanthropy programs is a good way to bolster a company’s reputation while making employees feel good about the place where they work, says management consultant Michael Montgomery, founder of Montgomery Consulting, which helps companies implement such programs. However, starting a philanthropy isn’t just a matter of picking a charity to support.
“Successful workplace philanthropy projects are not necessarily the boss’s favorite charity. Rather, they are organized around causes that truly resonate with the employees,” he says.
If you’re interested in starting a successful workplace philanthropy program, take a few cues from those who have already done so successfully.
As you launch your program, think about how you’ll direct efforts and money, as well as how you’ll vet the organizations involved, Montgomery says. A 2014 survey by America’s Charities, a membership group of nonprofit organizations, found that 61% of nonprofit survey respondents said their corporate partners and individual donors expect greater accountability around impact and results. So show your employees how they can evaluate charities on their own and measure their effectiveness. Organizations and websites like GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and the Better Business Bureau can all be useful tools.
When Michael Kramer, a managing partner of Natural Investments, LLC, a sustainable investment firm, and coauthor of The Resilient Investor: A Plan for Your Life, Not Just Your Money, says that his firm gives away 1% of its gross revenue to green economy, sustainability, and social justice nonprofit organizations. Advisers who are independent contractors choose where their contributions are directed. In some cases, they’ve uncovered interesting and effective nonprofits in which the company makes a larger investment to support its work, Kramer says.
“A lot of times, employees are just never asked about what they care about or how they feel,” Kramer says. Giving them that autonomy both allows them to make a difference according to their values and also shows them that the company values their input.
For company-wide initiatives, Montgomery says it’s important to find a cause that aligns with the company’s vision and purpose. Vancouver-based Prizm Media, Inc.’s husband and wife cofounders Karina and Zeeshan Hayat have always had a commitment to philanthropy, so they say it was natural that they’d incorporate it into their company. The company specializes in health care lead generation, and they are drawn to charitable works that make a difference in people’s lives.
The company has built a partnership with its local Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing and services for parents with terminally ill children. Prizm’s team cooks meals, volunteers time with the children, and helps out when needed. Zeeshan says it’s a bonding experience for employees, but also goes beyond that. Vancouver is a competitive place to land talent—and this initiative helps. Employees each take ownership of getting parts of the job done—picking up supplies or making time to volunteer at the facility. Because they have an affinity for the nonprofit, it contributes to their overall job satisfaction, Zeesham says.
“We have Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft—about 500 companies have offices here. We compete with those types of companies for employees and talent,” he says. “These are the kind of initiatives that we’ve found people care about.”
If the initiative isn’t coming from the top, it’s important to show company leaders why workplace philanthropy is important. Workplace giving generates $4 billion in charitable donations annually, according to the America’s Charities report, while delivering a host of benefits to companies that engage in the practice, including greater retention and lower recruitment costs. Employees are reluctant to work for companies that aren’t good corporate citizens and, when they will, it requires paying them a lot more money, a recent survey by Corporate Responsibility magazine found. Montgomery says it’s also an opportunity to develop leadership skills in some employees by giving them responsibilities to carry out.
“It has to be a fit within the culture of your organization,” he says. “In some places, you’ll generate excitement with 40 people out in an activity wearing the company T-shirts, while other places will do better with more self-directed programs. But measure the impact you’re having, the attention you’re getting, and how employees feel about [the program],” Montgomery says. You’ll likely find that the initiative is paying off more than expected.