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Philanthropy at the workplace matters

Creative community philanthropy is part of small and mid-size companies' recruitment, community connections and company comraderie.

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Companies Help Community Through Nonprofits and People in Need

Across the nation, small and midsize companies and their staffs routinely give cash, pro bono professional services, and volunteer time to nonprofit organizations and people in need.

Corporate philanthropy has become an important part of achieving company excellence, especially at award-winning businesses. While most midsize companies rarely advertise their philanthropy, a company’s role in the community can have a strong influence on the public’s perception, as well as employees. Employees really value a socially responsible company. It becomes part of the culture.

Company Strategies for Effective Community Citizenship

Several common methods of giving used by companies that have been recognized as being a good place to work or a good corporate citizen include:
  • pairing cash contributions with donated staff time;
  • choosing recipients by a committee representing employees from different levels and departments; and
  • selecting recipients of pro bono services carefully to showcase company talent and/or enhance its reputation.

Companies that look at philanthropy as a challenge rather than as a chore say it fosters a friendly work environment. Businesses of all types have embraced the concept of “relief time,” which generally gives employees anywhere from four to eight hours off per year to volunteer in the community.

Financial Grants Coupled with Volunteer Power

At Availity, an award-winning, women-led business, work-life balance is one of the business’s stated values, Gomez said. “You can work in a computer environment only so long with heads down,” she said. But because the business runs a call center and people need to be in the office, the company has looked for volunteer work that can be completed within the office, such as compiling CARE packages in the staff break room. The volunteer time usually supplements a corporate cash donation.

Limiting cash donations to those causes that can also accommodate employee volunteers helps Denver-based law firm Wheeler Trigg Kennedy narrow the field. “One of our main goals is to build camaraderie internally,” said Connie M. Proulx, of Wheeler Trigg Kennedy and executive director of the Wheeler Trigg Kennedy Foundation. “We don’t want to just write a check.”

Younger Job Seekers Look for Company Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility

Part of a company's perceived greatness is a sense of community, of which shared philanthropic effort is a very big part. These days, many job seekers—particularly those in their early 30s and younger—routinely ask about a company’s philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.

Hesta Properties Inc., a real estate firm with operations in North Carolina, Palm Beach, and Philadelphia, has merged its philanthropy so closely with its brand identity that it affects revenues, Steuer said. The firm buys art and installs it in the lobbies, atriums, and outside entrances of its properties and hosts gallery tours. “They get a higher rent per square foot than anyone else,” Steuer said.

A survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers LLP found that while 73 percent of privately held companies are involved in charitable giving and 40 percent of CEOs describe corporate giving as a priority, more than half the CEOs interviewed, 55 percent, don’t see it as important to their long-term growth.

Attract and Retain Quality Employees

But the more progressive midsize companies realize that in order to grow, they need to attract and retain quality employees and network with other businesses, he said. Because midsize businesses are competing for staff with large firms, they have to work even harder at the human resource issues.

Philanthropy and Business: New Priorities

The Conference Board surveyed 231 companies between January and March 2006 about corporate giving priorities for the upcoming year. The results revealed that the philanthropic goals of many businesses are changing.

  • Almost half of the companies (49 percent) reported that the biggest change in corporate giving over the last five years is its alignment with business needs and corporate reputation and branding.
  • More than two-thirds (68 percent) of companies reported that volunteerism will grow in importance as a management priority.
  • A large number (40 percent) of companies use the size of their local workforce to decide where to give outside of their home country.
  • Asia is growing in importance in terms of targeting corporate philanthropy programs.
  • Many businesses (42 percent) listed diversity as the program area that will be most important in 2006, with Latino organizations ranking highest in importance.

Source: Philanthropy and Business: The Changing Agenda, The Conference Board, Research Report R-1389-06-RR, May 2006.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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