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How To Build A Workplace Philanthropy Program

Sri is the CEO of Bright Funds. Bright Funds is a leading provider of workplace giving, volunteer management, and grants management.

Most businesses got their start by solving a societal problem or by offering an alternative solution. For example, modes of transportation allowed people to get from point A to point B, while Zoom brought the ability to connect and interact without the need to go to point B. Once a business is established, however, the focus has traditionally shifted to the bottom line: How much profit are we making?

That myopic focus no longer works in today’s hyper-connected society. Companies are scrutinized like never before, and everyone wants to know what kind of impact a company is having on the world. Those who are having a positive impact have better performance across the board. In the words of Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, “Ultimately, purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.”

Ironically, this takes us back to the beginning. My company provides a philanthropy platform that helps organizations give back. Through this experience, I’m finding that companies are expected to do good (solve societal problems), and these are also the types of companies for which people want to work. In this environment, workplace philanthropy is no longer an optional employee benefit. Just like retirement plan benefits have gone mainstream, I believe the same holds true for employee giving programs. A survey by Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose found that 89% of companies offered at least one gift-matching program for their employees in 2019.

Including employees in the journey is one of the easiest ways to start building a responsible brand. Here are a few reasons why you might include employee philanthropy programs in your benefits package:

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1. Employees expect it. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves and work for organizations that do good. In fact, many employees now expect social responsibility from companies. That’s not something businesses can afford to ignore, particularly amidst the Great Resignation. By involving employees in your corporate philanthropy program, you are demonstrating that you care about the causes they care about. And that can help improve employee well-being and morale.

2. Employees can bring their whole selves to work. Previous generations of workers were expected to keep their personal lives separate from their work lives, but that is no longer true. Employers who remain silent on current issues such as social injustice or climate change may find themselves losing talent. Listening to and empowering employees to support issues they care about can go a long way toward making them feel their whole self is supported at work.

3. Giving back can help reduce stress. This past year has been hard. According to a study by Oracle (registration required) of nearly 15,000 workers across 13 countries, more than half (52%) said they “struggled with mental health at work more in 2021 than in 2020.” Helping others can be a good way to lower stress. The Cleveland Clinic has also said that giving back can activate mood-boosting endorphins and areas in the brain “associated with pleasure, connection with other people and trust.”

4. Employees are more likely to be engaged. Employees who are giving back to a greater purpose are also more likely to be more engaged, especially if they are passionate about the causes to which they are giving. Gallup’s “Perspective on ESG and the Will of the Workplace” (registration required) reported that employees who “strongly agree” their organization has a positive impact on the world are two times as likely to be engaged in the workplace compared to other workers.

5. Job hunters look for it. With the world at their fingertips, it’s easy for job seekers today to research companies before applying, and many workers today want to work for companies with values. Offering a workplace philanthropy program can help you stand out in job listings and attract the strongest talent.

The bottom line is that purpose matters to today’s workforce. To build a successful giving program, however, you should keep these tips in mind:

1. Make sure there’s internal alignment around the value of the program. This helps ensure your program gets the focus and resources it needs. To foster this alignment, identify a program champion who can attain executive support. Also, establish a cross-functional team that includes regional advocates to help lead the program. Give them company-wide visibility to communicate the program to employees.

2. Listen to and empower employees. While company-sponsored giving campaigns can be a great way to strengthen team and community bonds, employees want to give to nonprofits they personally care about. Allowing them to do so will result in higher program engagement and impact.

3. Get the word out. Make sure employees know about the program and any incentives such as matching gifts. Include it in new hire onboarding, as well as employee newsletters, websites and emails.

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4. Make it fun. Gamify participation by offering giving incentives such as credit grants as contest or raffle prizes.

I believe a quote shared in a study published by Elsevier sums my point up well: “Humans are social creatures by nature. Perhaps this is why our minds and bodies are rewarded when we give to others.” From my perspective, helping others by donating money or time can foster internal joy and happiness. Being part of a larger cause with like-minded colleagues can also provide a sense of accomplishment infused with a purpose that reinforces emotional well-being, as well as opens the door to cultivating new skills.

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