Chapter 1: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misunderstandings

Plenty of people want to do good in their companies and communities, and lots of those people have fantastic ideas. But putting ideas into action can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start, and it can be especially discouraging to be told it can’t be done, it shouldn’t be done, or that ithas to be done a certain way or what’s the point. In the preface, we discussed a few oft-repeated myths around workplace giving programs and CSR. I’ve heard them used as excuses, sure, but plenty of people actually buy into them, which is a shame, to say the least. Imagine how many HR and business leaders out there are letting a little thing like a myth stop them from catalyzing change. Maybe you’re one of them!

So let’s get a few things straight, shall we?

Myth #1: CSR is a “nice to have,” but it’s not a “need to have” because it doesn’t impact a company’s core strategy execution.

Reality: In fact, CSR is an essential driver of employee engagement. According to a study conducted by America’s Charities, 68% of employers said that their employees expect them to provide:

  • an effective workplace giving program
  • the ability to volunteer during work hours
  • opportunities to engage skills-based volunteering
  • matching gifts for employee contributions to nonprofits

In other words, when you provide them with opportunities to participate in company-sponsored fundraisers, volunteerism, and charity events, you’re helping to drive engagement. You may have heard engagement defined as how “happy” or “satisfied” employees are. In fact, there is a distinct difference between satisfied employees and engaged employees. Satisfied employees like their jobs and are happy to come to work. They do what is required of them, and they perform their job functions well. Engaged employees go a step further. They bring a passion and a higher level of commitment to their job. They have a sense of purpose, they strive to achieve more, and are fully invested in their company’s success. Engaged employees are your biggest asset, and through their participation in your program they will serve as champions of not only your culture, but also your company’s image and brand.

Workplace giving and CSR programs, when incorporated into a company’s strategy and embedded into its culture, help to strengthen an employee’s emotional commitment and increase the emotional investment employees make in their company. In addition, if you take it one step further and give employees a voice, inviting them offer ideas and feedback about your program on a regular basis, you are also empowering them. Empowerment is a great motivator and driver of engagement. Engagement and empowerment contribute to higher performance, which in turn lead to higher productivity. It should go without saying that employee performance and productivity levels have a direct impact on successful core strategy execution.

Myth #2: There’s no tangible return on investment (ROI) associated with workplace giving and/or CSR programs.

Reality: Corporate giving plays a critical role in how your company is perceived by all of your stakeholders, which without a doubt impacts your ROI. For one thing, your employees are your company’s biggest ambassadors. Through volunteerism they help raise the visibility of your brand and also strengthen your reputation as a good corporate citizen. Your employees are your corporate culture in action. No marketing campaign on the planet can compare with that kind of PR. Consider, too, that your customers expect you to be active in supporting your community. Edelman’s goodpurpose study found that 44% of consumers believe companies should allow employees time to volunteer. According to Edelman, “corporate volunteer programs not only boost employee morale—they also can be great reputation boosters.”

A culture of giving enhances your company’s image, and image is everything. For starters, the image your company projects is important to your employees. It can impact whether they stay or go. A company’s image can impact whether candidates apply for a job with you or pass in favor of another company, and whether potential customers choose to do business with you or someone they feel is more socially invested.

If your company, like many others, is struggling to engage your millennial workforce and/or appeal to millennial consumers, consider this: A report sponsored by the Case Foundation with research from Achieve states that millennials expect corporations and employers to be committed to doing good. According to the report, millennials collectively spend $300 billion annually on consumer discretionary goods. In 2013, a whopping 87% of them donated to a charity. Given that this group will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, it’s even more important that companies weave giving into their business strategy. While employee retention is important, attracting new talent to your company is just as crucial. The Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report notes that “if a company wants to recruit and hire a talented, civic-minded Millennial, company-sponsored cause work is an important selling point.” Millennials between the ages of 25 and 30 were more likely to accept a position if they heard about cause work in the interview. Indeed, recruiters at my company have reported that candidates have mentioned our company’s community involvement and charitable giving during the interview process.

Today, corporate philanthropy is about cultivating a relationship with nonprofits that goes beyond the donation grant and involves identifying a need in the community and working together to help meet it. Writing a check to a charity but also showing up with a team of employee volunteers early on a Saturday morning shows commitment to building a lasting partnership with a nonprofit. Giving employees the opportunity to be a part of company volunteer teams specifically dedicated to helping you implement your program engages and empowers them. It also allows you to tap existing resources to get the job done, creating a win-win.

So to recap: charitable giving and CSR contribute to retention, recruitment, employee engagement, enhanced company reputation, and increased brand visibility. I’d say that’s a pretty good return on investment!

Myth #3: You need to invest a lot of money in a workplace giving program to do it right.

Reality: Perhaps the biggest myth I’ve heard about starting a workplace giving program, and the one that’s at the heart of why I wrote this book, is that you have to make a significant dollar investment to launch a program. You will be happy to know that not only is this not true, but you can actually launch your program with little to no investment and still make an impact in your community. How do I know? Because that’s exactly what I did.

Many events, such as clothing and food drives, cost your company nothing, and still benefit nonprofits and the people they serve. Organizing a volunteer effort is also a no- or low-cost activity. Starting your program off with these types of events has other benefits as well. It gives you an opportunity to gauge employee interest, and in doing so, allows you to gather data to build a case for future funding and program expansion. Understand that there is no such thing as “not good enough” when it comes to giving. Doing something trumps doing nothing any day. (More on how we launched our program on a shoestring budget and still made a meaningful impact in Chapter 7: Charter Your Course.)

Now that we’ve dispelled the myths, it’s time to start planning your reality: how you’ll help your company create a million dollar’s worth of change (without spending a million)!

Key takeaways from this chapter:

  • There’s no “wrong way” to give
  • Satisfied employees are not engaged employees
  • Millennials expect corporations and employers to do good
  • Doing something trumps doing nothing every time

Case Study:  Values and Purpose Driven Giving: Wallick & Volk

In this chapter we talked about a new style of philanthropy that goes beyond the checkbook. This approach to giving focuses on identifying a need in the community and collaborating to help meet that need. It’s about relationship building, a concept that Wallick & Volk understands well.

Wallick & Volk Mortgage in Phoenix, Arizona, was recognized by Phoenix Business News as one of the best places to work in Phoenix. They pride themselves on their values, which are:

  • Operate with trust
  • Act with good purpose
  • Strive for excellence
  • Conduct ourselves with integrity
  • Encourage personal responsibility

These values resonate, especially given how hard this part of the country was hit by the foreclosure crisis and predatory lending in the mortgage industry. In addition to their values, the company is also known for their philanthropy. On its website, the firm has a link to GivingBack, a program that provides discounted home loans and other real estate services to community heroes (retired and active government employees; current and former members of the military; public and private school employees; medical workers; and emergency services personnel). GivingBack is the only program of its kind in the United States. It was designed to target, screen, and maintain a strategic network of professionals and companies that provide quality assistance to community heroes at discounted prices not available to the general public.

The impact of this type of program can be measured by the number of loans given and how many homes are purchased. In addition, a program that works directly with individuals on a one-to-one basis helps establish the company as a true community partner via the relationships that are forged between the firm and the people it serves. The company also educates the community on the types of assistance they qualify for as a result of their profession or status as a first-time home buyer. Key to the success of Wallick & Volk’s program is that the work they are doing in the community ties back directly to their business and their core values.

Is there a product or service your company sells that you can provide to a nonprofit? Can that product or service benefit members of your community? Are there certain groups within your community that have an expressed need for the service or product? If so, then a program like the one at Wallick & Volk might be perfect for your company.

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