A Win-Win: Philanthropy Programs That Engage Employees

Giving back never goes out of season. Here are five ways to give back that help engage your teams.
Lisa Bertagnoli
Senior Staff Reporter
November 10, 2021
Updated: November 15, 2021
Lisa Bertagnoli
Senior Staff Reporter
November 10, 2021
Updated: November 15, 2021

The very first day Trust & Will started business, back in 2017, Cody Barbo enrolled the company in Pledge 1%, a global initiative to encourage philanthropy. Enrolling set the foundation for a corporate philanthropy program that evolves as the company grows, Barbo said. 

“Through our corporate philanthropy programs, we are also demonstrating a commitment to our team, investors, and the larger community that we truly value the well-being of our employees,” said Barbo, co-founder and CEO of the San Diego-based company, which offers online estate-planning services. “This helps with recruiting the best-in-class talent to join our growing team.”

6 Great Things About Corporate Philanthropy

  • It creates a feeling of engagement among employees.
  • Group volunteer projects encourage teamwork.
  • It enables employees to use their expertise and skills outside of the workplace.
  • Employees are proud to work at a company that gives back.
  • Volunteer and other charitable efforts boost a company’s reputation and presence.
  • They can be a crucial benefit in today’s tight labor market.

Barbo’s not the only tech executive to realize the benefits of philanthropic programs that include, and engage, employees. Giving back never goes out of season. Here are a few ideas to get started.

 

Start a Movement 

In May of 2021, Chicago-based mortgage and fintech company Guaranteed Rate launched Random Acts of Kindness Week. “It was a simple initiative designed to spread more love in the world,” said Steve Moffat, chief marketing officer. The company invited people to participate the week of May 17 to 23 and the ask was easy: do kind things for others and spread the word. 

To get the kindness rolling, Guaranteed Rate set up a landing page with a list of 1,000 easy ways, including sending a card to a children’s hospital or even holding a door open for someone, to make kindness part of everyday life.

“By working together, our employees feel more connected and engaged as they strive to do kind things for others and embody the company’s positive core values,” he said.

The campaign reached more than 45 million people through television, social media, billboards and postcards. The company’s partners, including the Chicago White Sox and NASCAR driver Ryan Newman spread the word. The company’s 10,000 employees shared their Random Acts of Kindness on social media with the hashtag #GuaranteedKindness. 

“The main incentive to participate in the initiative was the opportunity to share positivity,” Moffat said. “Witnessing others taking part in spreading kindness through social media had a viral effect and encouraged others to do the same.”

Moffat said that initiatives like Random Acts of Kindness help the company deliver on its primary core value, Grow For Good. “By working together, our employees feel more connected and engaged as they strive to do kind things for others and embody the company’s positive core values,” he said.

More on How to Support your Employees23 Companies That Support Black Lives Matter (BLM) in 2021

 

Join a Movement 

New York-based Curb, which includes work in paratransit and wheelchair-accessible transportation in its lineup of services, has organized employee participation in New York’s Disabilities Pride Parade. “Being able to engage with members of these communities first-hand was an invaluable experience and very important to those employees who spend a great deal of time and effort supporting our work in paratransit and wheelchair-accessible transportation,” said Jason Gross, vice president of mobile at the platform.

To spark participation, Curb posted company-wide bulletins, sent out internal newsletters, and shared on social media. Employees shared the news too, as they were excited about the event, Gross said. Curb provided T-shirts to those participating in the parade and we also drove a few wheelchair-accessible vehicles festooned with Curb branding. 

Gross said that employees were proud to be able to participate in the event, and enjoyed seeing gratitude and appreciation from members of the community, as well as hearing their feedback.

 

Organize Volunteers 

The Allstate Foundation’s Helping Hands Grants encourages Allstate employees and agents to volunteer, and funds nonprofits around the country. “Providing employees with resources and opportunities to give back to the community is a key part of our employee value proposition and something we measure employee perceptions of,” said Megan Bultman, philanthropy manager at Northbrook, Illinois-based Allstate. (The foundation is the philanthropic arm of Allstate.)

Bultman added that 90 percent of Allstate employees strongly or somewhat agree that the company provides resources and opportunities to give back to the community. “It’s one of the strongest components of our employee value proposition,” she said. 

Through Helping Hands Grants, employees and agents can volunteer, in teams or on their own, and earn grants that are given directly to nonprofits they support. The foundation also matches, dollar-for-dollar, donations up to $1,000 per employee per year. Since 2010, employees have earned more than $3.2 million in grants for nonprofits. In the last three years, employees have volunteered north of 189,000 hours. “Even through the pandemic, Allstate employees continued to volunteer virtually,” Bultman said. 

This holiday season, Allstate Foundation is distributing $50 gift codes to 10,000 employees and agents to donate to any project of DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that supports classrooms with supplies and other resources.

How to Participate in Giving Tuesday

  • On December 1, 2020, Giving Tuesday, the global day of giving held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, saw $2.47 billion in donations within 24 hours in the United States alone, said Caryn Stein, chief communications officer for the New York-based nonprofit. Donations included money as well as time, skills, goods, Stein said.
  • Empowering your employees to help design your social good work also means they’ll be more invested in the program, Stein said. She suggested an incentive, for instance PTO for volunteering on Giving Tuesday or a special charitable-contribution match for the day. Companies can also work with one of Giving Tuesday’s existing country or community movements.
  • For more ideas, visit GivingTuesday.org and download the organization’s toolkit for companies and brands.

Allstate Foundation also connects employees with hands-on opportunities to help nonprofits solve problems. Teams of employees meet with nonprofits that have a specific issue to address, then create and present solutions to the nonprofits. Nonprofits choose the winning idea, and get to keep it along with all the others. 

Gokul Rao, a senior manager in Allstate’s tech organization, participated in the skills-based program last summer, helping a shelter for women experiencing domestic violence sort out some data issues. He and a team of three other Allstate employees interviewed staffers at the nonprofit, then devised a data solution for them and recommended several vendors they could approach for data solutions. 

The volunteer work resonated with Rao for three reasons: It’s skills-based, so he was able to share his expertise with a nonprofit; Allstate Foundation made it easy for Allstate employees to learn about and participate in the program; and his boss gave him the flexibility to participate. “I did my homework on who would cover me and off I went,” he said. 

The volunteer work “is part of our shared purpose,” Rao said, noting that he helped out with an office food drive just a week after joining Allstate. “To keep the team spirit going, volunteer activities like these are super important.” He was so enthusiastic about the day of service that his direct reports did it too, and had fun doing so. “It always improves the bonding in a team and overall how we function,” he said.

More on Employee Engagement8 Employee Engagement Strategies That Actually Work

 

Match Contributions

A $250 charitable contribution match and paid volunteer time off are the most popular philanthropic programs at Trust & Will. The donation and company match are processed through the company’s payroll and benefits provider, a “seamless” process, Barbo said. 

“By making the process very easy, it encourages employees to make donations more frequently to their favorite non-profits,” he said. Plus, allowing employees to support causes important to them allows Trust & Will to diversify the social impact donations it makes, he added. 

His advice for companies looking for a way to give back? “Just do it,” Barbo said.

The paid volunteer time is in conjunction with Pledge 1%, a global program through which people sign a pledge promising to donate at least 1 percent of company equity, personal equity, time, product, carry (for investors) or profits. The company’s 55 employees are encouraged to volunteer one day each quarter to causes they care about. That 32 hours per person per year results in about 1,800 hours total in giving-back time, Barbo said. Offering designated time off motivates employees to take the time to help the causes they care about, Barbo said. “They don’t have to use a vacation day to do meaningful work and spread the values of integrity and kindness that we value at our company,” he said. 

The two programs, in addition to engaging employees, help spread the word about Trust & Will. “Trust & Will’s mission is to help families plan for a better future,” Barbo said. “When employees are out spreading this mission, we are introducing the Trust & Will brand and our values to a wider audience through volunteering events and charitable work.” 

His advice for companies looking for a way to give back? “Just do it,” Barbo said. Bardo suggests an employee survey on what nonprofits they’re supporting and what causes they most align with as a good start. And plenty of tools exist, among them Pledge 1%, Ecologi, which Trust & Will uses to offset its carbon footprint, and Giving Tuesday, the global collective day of giving. “It’s a lot easier than you think to get started,” he said.

 

Get Employees Involved 

At Atlanta-based Florence Healthcare, the first Friday of every month engages employees in one of three categories: Food and culture, sports and activities and volunteer/giving back opportunities, said Gia Ganesh, vice president of people and culture. For volunteer efforts, employees identify causes and organizations they are passionate about and lead the effort. Employees usually go to a facility to volunteer; recent projects have been for Trees Atlanta, Habitat for Humanity, Books for Africa and the Wounded Warrior Project. Employees also determine the recipients of quarterly charitable and yearly contributions, with Girls on the Run and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society being recent examples. 

“We believe employee led opportunities are the best since employees are truly vested in the cause and are able to rally their colleagues to support the cause with backing from the company,” Ganesh said. Once the cause is identified, the company spreads the word through mentions in daily standup meetings, email announcements, shares in the company newsletter, social media and even contests to boost participation and the fun quotient, she said. “We’ve been able to marshal the troops to action,” Ganesh said.

“Once the cause is identified, we create an awareness campaign to spread the word internally — from mentions in our daily standup meetings, to email announcements, sharing in our company newsletter, social media awareness, contests to increase participation to making it fun, we’ve been able to marshal the troops to action.

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