Most organizations support charities in their communities through a variety of means — donations supporting specific initiatives, sponsorships, by purchasing tables for events or donating items to auctions, team participation in walks and runs or through volunteerism.

Philanthropy has been a key facet of good corporate citizenship for a long time. However, in many organizations, philanthropy and the decisions and efforts that surround it sit outside the purview of employees. Since philanthropy is intertwined with elements of culture, organizational and employee health, productivity and brand (to name just a few), employers that aren’t actively connecting philanthropy with employees are missing an opportunity.

Read: Using benefits, pension programs to maximize CSR policies

Here are some reasons why organizations should reconsider how they’re framing philanthropy at work:

  • It drives and supports culture.

In 2017, Cone Communications published a study about the evolution of corporate social responsibility. “Companies must now share not only what they stand for, but what they stand up for,” it said.

Taking this position aligns philanthropy with an organization’s values, redefines the culture and gives employees a strong sense of who their organization is and how it relates to the community.

Philanthropy also builds connections across all levels and roles within an organization by encouraging people to rally around a common cause. For example, an agri-foods business may choose to focus its philanthropic efforts on increasing food security, while a professional services firm might use its expertise to do pro bono work for a nonprofit.

  • It supports employee attraction and retention. 

Prospective employees aren’t only checking out an employer’s business results and reputation, they’re also looking at how the organization gives back to the community. A 2017 study by Telus Communications found one in two working Canadians feel it’s important that a prospective employer organizes volunteering events in the local community, while three in five said it’s important companies partner with nonprofit organizations and help provide fundraising support.

Read: Fidelity Investments rolls out charitable giving program for employers

Employees want to feel proud of the organization they work for and know it’s collectively contributing to the greater good. This is especially key for younger employees, including millennials who already comprise 50 per cent of the workforce and are set to represent 75 per cent by 2025. While this generation values flexibility, work-life balance and growth opportunities in their workplaces, a healthy culture and corporate social responsibility are important factors in their decisions to both join an organization and stay.

  • It increases engagement. 

People need to feel they’re making a positive impact on the world around them. When an employer demonstrates shared values and cares about the welfare of others, it draws employees closer to the organization, strengthens the emotional commitment to what the company stands for and provides a sense of fulfillment that extends beyond their day-to-day jobs.

Volunteerism creates meaningful opportunities for team bonding and enhances the connections that employees feel with each other by working together toward a goal bigger than themselves.

  • It contributes to wellness. 

Philanthropy connects directly with social and emotional wellness, two of the four pillars of holistic well-being, which also includes physical and financial wellness. Creating connections is good for people and so is giving back.

  • It helps employees build skills and experiences. 

It can be challenging to find meaningful opportunities to help employees expand their skills and broaden their perspectives through different or novel experiences. A learning and development program that includes volunteerism provides employees with the opportunity to build skills and experiences outside of the organization, or to take on different roles from what they do at work. It can also give employees an opportunity to network with other members of the community.

Read: Canadians want volunteering opportunities organized by employers: study

It’s also important for employers to ensure they’re getting the most out of a corporate philanthropy program. Here are some considerations and opportunities:

  • Survey employees to understand their giving and volunteering behaviours and preferences

A large number of employees already donate money, time or talent to charities. Ask about their philanthropic priorities and find trends that align with the organization’s values and goals.

  • Give employees time off to volunteer 

To really connect with the community and impact the culture of an organization, provide employees with the opportunity to give their time and talent as part of an overall paid time off policy. Corporate volunteering increases job satisfaction, builds teams and creates a more powerful giving experience. Including time for volunteerism in an overall paid time off strategy could include a day of service across the organization, an internship program with a nonprofit or volunteer hours on company time to use as they wish.

Read: Cisco workers get five days to give back under formalized volunteer policy

  • Create a platform for employees to share experiences

A key element of an organization’s approach to philanthropy should include a place where colleagues can share pictures and information about charitable experiences. A venue for sharing builds culture and engagement and allows employees to demonstrate how they’re living an employer’s values. It also allows the employer to enhance its reputation and brand in the community.

  • Offer matching programs

Most organizations already dedicate a certain amount of dollars per year as a donation to a charity or charities of choice. Many match employee donations to those charities up to a cap as well. Consider broadening matching programs to include employee donations to charities they choose to support rather than ones an organization chooses.

Read: 72% favour employers with strong CSR practices: survey

This enhances employee engagement and further solidifies an employee’s connection to the employer by demonstrating it supports their interests. Allowing employee-led giving decisions also supports an organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

  • Offer charitable giving as a reward

Wellness programs that include incentives for completing certain challenges or demonstrating certain behaviours could include a donation to a charity of the employee’s choice as a reward option, instead of — or in addition to — other incentives. An employer could also consider implementing a more values-based recognition program that weaves a philanthropic program with service rewards or recognition.

Amplify the impact of an organization’s philanthropic strategies by bringing it closer to employees. Both the employer and the community will benefit.

Kim Siddall is a vice-president and local practice leader at Aon. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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