Give It Away

With the holidays quickly approaching, our minds often turn to giving. As leaders, we may be considering how our companies can give back to the community. Yet, this time of year also gives us an opportunity to evaluate our position on year-round generosity.

Every year Forbes Magazine publishes an article sharing the results of the ten most charitable companies in the United States. It quotes The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which polls three hundred companies with the largest revenues in the country, to find out how much of their profits they donate in cash.  Of those surveyed, about one-third of the companies responded. The list of corporate contributions is impressive, including Wells Fargo, which donated $314 million, or 1.3% of their profits. This percentage reflected the average donation of most of the companies surveyed. 

There is no questioning the social impact of Wells Fargo’s generosity. Yet, I have to wonder, is giving cash enough? Could Wells Fargo create even farther reaching effects with another type of support? What if they also committed to enrolling their employees in their philanthropic efforts?

There are countless benefits to establishing an employee volunteer policy. Creating a charitable mission can create unity and a sense of purpose among employees. Becoming connected to a charity icreates marketing and networking opportunities. When employees show up to help others, an identity of goodwill is created for the company. The word quickly spreads employees offer hands-on support at the soup kitchen or community garden, and often the press helps spread the word. 

But perhaps the most importantl benefit of volunteerism through the workplace is a simple one:  volunteering makes people happy and feel connected. Sonja Lyubormursky, author of The How of Happiness, reminds us that altruism—including kindness, generosity, and compassion—are keys to the social connections that are so important to our happiness. Research finds that acts of kindness, can boost happiness in the person doing the good deed. The results of that kindness are the qualities that help retain employees and bring out their best work:

  • Being generous leads us to perceive others more compassionately. Co-workers who give one another the benefit of the doubt work well together
  • Being kind promotes a sense of connection and community with others. Community creates cohesiveness and teamwork.
  • Being generous helps us appreciate and feel grateful for our own good fortune. An employee who feels grateful for their job is likely to make positive contributions and spread positive energy.
  • Being generous boosts our self-image; it helps us feel useful and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way. Feeling valued at work spurs more productivity.

More and more, companies are encouraging their employees to volunteer, and often pay their staff for their humanitarian time. The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed companies about their employee benefits and found 20 percent of the respondents give their workers paid time off for volunteering. This figure is up from 15 percent in 2009. US Bank, for example, pays their employees for 16 hours of volunteer time every year. Their staff in Minneapolis work side by side, volunteering at a kitchen every Friday morning serving homeless people.

It costs a lot less to pay for employees to volunteer than it does to replace them. Promoting volunteerism reflects the wisdom of creating purpose, pride and an opportunity to team build outside of the office. Volunteerism through the workplace is a great opportunity for companies to make a difference to their community while also making a positive impact on the lives on their employees. And, as is the law of giving, they receive expontential rewards in return for their generosity.

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