Remaining Charitable During Tough Economic Times

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.
-Booker T. Washington

Organizations are being forced to evaluate all options to reduce costs and operate more efficiently due to current economic conditions. These operational changes and cost reductions often lead employees to feel that things are being taken away from them and may result in lower morale.

One of the most effective ways to improve morale is to make an organizational commitment to creating a culture focused on charitable giving. On a personal level think of how it makes each one of us feel when we give to others and are able to see the joy that is brought to the recipients. When spread throughout an organization, that feeling can become contagious. Obviously, that is not the motivation for the charitable act, but it is important to recognize the positive impact that charitable giving and the feelings that accompany it bring to an organization, especially in an economic climate when organizations are often forced to make negative announcements.

The following are some tips for establishing an effective charitable giving program within your organization.

Establish Initiatives and Set Short And Long Term Goals
Companies should intertwine charitable initiatives throughout all levels of the organization so it becomes a part of the organizational culture. Communicate the importance of these initiatives to employees at all levels.

Give employees a voice in the charitable initiatives that are chosen. Individuals are more willing to participate when they feel they were part of the decision making process. A committee dedicated to this cause can help select the charities and streamline the process.

Set both short term and long term charitable goals and chart the progress. Some examples include participation rates and overall monetary value.

Make It Fun
In our experiences with charitable giving we have found the best employee responses come when we use creative ideas to make it fun; for example, creating competitions between departments. We have also presented “out of the ordinary ways” to get people to donate such as having the president of the organization participate in a roof sit. These activities show commitment to the causes from the top tier of the organization, while making it fun and engaging for employees.

Show commitment from the top tier of the organization by recognizing and rewarding departments or the organization as a whole when goals for charitable giving are met. Consider having an all-employee lunch when an important milestone has been reached.

Out of Pocket
It is important to remember that charitable giving can occur without out of pocket costs to the organization or employees. Many charities are looking for things like donated time or goods, such as canned food drives. It is important to find the right blend of charities in terms of both causes, but also in terms of what is expected, to avoid placing unnecessary burden or pressure on employees. Don’t forget that charitable giving includes volunteering, community service or even educational related projects.

Just as your organization is dedicated to this cause, other organizations are as well. Try partnering with them to better meet the charities’ needs. For example, organize a competition for organizations to see who could raise the most for the charity.

Employees have a tendency to forget all the positive things they have helped contribute to throughout the year and the positive impact it has had on the lives of others, so find effective ways to help remind them. One suggestion is to include updates in your company wide communication pieces. Another is to have a board posted at your organization with the thank you notes, etc. from the various organizations you have helped throughout the year.

Advantages of Corporate Philanthropy
Corporate philanthropy can bridge the gap between the organization and the surrounding community and often improves how the company is viewed by those that it serves and has relationships with. In addition, corporate philanthropy exposes the organization to individuals and markets they may not have been exposed to in the past, helping to create name recognition and increased customer loyalty.

While corporate philanthropy benefits the organization it also often benefits employees. Benefits often come in the form of feelings of increased involvement, an increased sense of being a part of the team, an increased awareness of and appreciation for differences in others, including co-workers, and an increased feeling of pride, which can ultimately lead to higher employee morale.

If implemented properly, charitable giving can create win-win situations for the company and its employees, as well as the individuals or organizations benefiting from the charitable gift. Recognize this relationship and its impact when evaluating options to reduce costs because this is one of the areas hit hardest in a down economy.

Kurt Wagner is operations manager for Acrisure Business Outsourcing Services, a division of The Campbell Group in Caledonia, MI. The Campbell Group has been named one of West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For since 2004. He can be reached at [email protected].