Charitable Giving Is Good Business

Charity, as the old saying goes, may begin at home, but increasingly it’s found its way into America’s home away from home—the workplace.

From multinational corporations to mom-and-pop shops, companies vary widely in the ways they and/or their employees give to charitable causes—from formal, year-round, mission-driven campaigns to employee-generated, cause-specific programs. All may offer opportunities for volunteering, direct donations, matching grants, fundraising drives, or automatic payroll deductions as ways to give back.

The holiday season is traditionally a focal point for giving. In 2015, #GivingTuesday fell on December 1. According to Network for Good, the leading digital donation processor, 31% of all giving in 2014 occurred in December, and 12% of that happened in the last three days of the year. In 2014, Americans donated a record $358.4 billion, according to Giving USA, with corporate donations making up $17.7 billion of the total.

In some companies, workplace giving starts with one motivated person. Someone like Robin Pukansky. In 2013, Pukansky, a nurse at the Surgery Center of the Rockies in Aurora, CO, suggested to her coworkers that they collectively adopt a family in need for the holidays.

She contacted Volunteers of America and was linked with a local family. She received the family’s wish list and distributed the list to her coworkers. Shortly before the holidays, she and her team brought their collection of gifts to a very grateful family. “I was so happy that they were so happy,” Pukansky said.

Some business owners are inspired to help in their communities and realize that giving back can also help give meaning to employees. Stephanie Klein, owner of Experience Factor, a Denver-based corporate recruiting firm, knew a teacher at an underserved Denver elementary school whose students didn’t have the supplies they needed. She and her staff gathered backpacks, books, and supplies for the school. “The kids were so happy,” Klein said. “Any time you can give and be of service, you get more than you give.”

Klein says she and her team have continued giving, and have incorporated a team-building component: they take a day off to spend the morning volunteering in their community then go out to lunch, where Klein recognizes the individual efforts of each participant. Klein strongly believes that these days of giving have markedly improved morale.

Multipronged Giving

Some companies mix direct donations with volunteering and nonprofit work and even provide clients with giving opportunities—a practice known as multipronged giving. One such company is The FruitGuys (whose magazine published this story), a mission-driven, family-owned business based in South San Francisco that delivers fruit to offices nationwide, practices multipronged giving. The FruitGuys GoodWorks Program donates fruit each week to food banks, and soup kitchens in its hub cities of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix; clients know that part of the proceeds from their weekly fruit orders goes to needy communities in their regions.

The company also offers clients whose offices are closed for the holidays the opportunity to donate their fruit boxes to local charities. According to GoodWorks Ambassador, Sheila Cassani, the program is unique in that “it allows clients to connect with the entire supply chain, from seed to need. Whether it’s by volunteering as a grant reviewer for our nonprofit, The FruitGuys Community Fund, which awards grants to small farms for sustainability projects, or generously forwarding their holiday-scheduled fruit deliveries to charities through our Donate-a-Crate program, together we are supporting the people who feed us and providing healthy food to those who might not otherwise have access to it.”

In 2014, Cassani says the company donated 400,000 pounds of fruit to charities; clients forwarded 318 crates of fruit (about 12,000 servings) to nonprofit groups, and The FruitGuys Community Fund gave out $30,000 in grants to eight farms.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility is swiftly becoming a standard operating procedure for many companies and government agencies, according to Deborah Rupp, professor of industrial-organizational psychology at Purdue University. Corporate responsibility, according to Rupp, helps all organizations by “improving image, attracting new talent, and engaging employees while fostering essential organizational citizenship behavior.”

Large companies are especially able to tap into those outcomes. Wells Fargo and its 265,000 employees are building a culture of philanthropy and good works on several platforms. In 2014, the company donated more than $281.2 million to more than 17,000 nonprofit organizations. According to the company’s 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility report, it has provided “$17 billion in loans and investments since 2012 to advance affordable housing, job creation, community services, and economic development in low- and moderate-income areas.”

A participant in one of those programs, Wells Fargo risk management consultant Pilar Hilst of Des Moines, IA, spent five weeks in Colombia, studying access to financial services in rural farming communities. She and her 12-member team “volunteered on-site and virtually with nonprofits in Colombia and India,” providing assistance to several underserved populations.

Regardless of the size of the business, corporate social responsibility programs have been found to reduce employee turnover, increase employee engagement and productivity, and even increase profits, according to Project ROI, a corporate responsibility consulting firm based in Alexandria, VA.

“Corporate social responsibility programs are a way to attract and retain employees and to get talented millennials excited,” said David A. Jones, Ph.D., co-director of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA Program at the University of Vermont. More than ever, people are choosing to accept jobs because they see that the company they’ve chosen is committed to giving back, Jones notes. He cited the example of a company that put half a million volunteer hours into creating a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education program. The program got buy-in with the federal government and eventually ended up affecting public policy.

Companies with corporate social responsibility programs are not only attracting new employees, but they’re also keeping the ones they have longer. In other words, workers who feel they’re making a difference are happier at their jobs and are eager to have the opportunity to help others.

Mary Anderson is a Denver-based freelance writer and found-object artist.

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