An established give-back plan benefits your business. Here's how.

Staff Writer

It could be said that charitable outreach in business has become a trend — the race to humanize faceless corporations intensifies as we head into the holidays. I doubt anyone would argue that giving is a bad idea. But unless you approach the process with a highly intentional mindset, the impact can be far too scattershot to be effective.

In short, it’s easy to give but really difficult to maximize the impact of that giving. Is it enough to encourage employees to donate a toy for a child or bring in canned goods for those without — and then let the chips fall where they may? Or does a true giving strategy require something more?

A giving initiative, aside from helping the population in need you’re serving, can have a huge impact on your company culture as a whole. But just like any other activity, you have to go in knowing beforehand what you want to get out of it. Here are some tips to maximize the effects of giving that perhaps you’ve never considered.

Create a culture of support.

For years, I’ve asked my employees to vote on what cause they’d like us to support each quarter. This has worked marginally well, and we’ve had decent “success” in terms of gathering donations, raising money and having employees attend certain fundraising walks.
But participation has never been 100 percent. In fact, it was more typical for less than 50 percent of our team to get on board with any one initiative. Since we voted on each charity we served, I assumed we were rallying around causes that everyone cared about. But the reality was that only one or two people tended to care passionately about each cause at a time.

One of our team members has a daughter who is autistic. Recently, she put up a message in our company Slack channel that she would be participating in a walk and drive to benefit autism. She placed a link to her daughters page complete with pictures, details and videos.

Within 24 hours, nearly every single person on our team donated and it was–far and away–our most successful initiative to date. I realized something critical through this experience. By aggregating charitable asks through the company we remove the humanistic element that is so critical in maintaining the authenticity of an initiative.

Rather than place the company as an intermediary between the need and the giver, instead promote a culture of giving where anyone who feels strongly about a cause can feel free to petition the group for help. Create open channels of communication and foster an environment where the entire organization knows it’s a safe place to call attention to a need.

If you’ve struggled with company-wide participation in charity efforts, I strongly recommend getting out of your own way and allowing a more organic exchange of ideas. This free flow of ideas will spill over into all areas of the business and decentralizing the decision-making process will enable teams to feel empowered and more connected to their work.

Promote user experience as a key to success.

Let’s be honest, we’re all busy and often what’s out fo sight is out of mind — even when there’s a really good cause attached. Don’t lose sight of this in your planning efforts. As a marketing agency, user experience is a big part of everything we do, but I’m always surprised that we often forget some of these core tenets when creating internal initiatives.

We’ve often participated in clothing and food drives, but the one that was most effective involved a simple change. Rather than directing employees to drop off sites where they could donate goods, we brought the donation sites to our office.

This particular charity was collecting clothing, specifically T-Shirts, for an African mission they were about to embark on. We asked the organization to place two large bins in our offices to support the effort. In less than a week, both bins were overflowing with over 500 shirts gathered. All because we made it simple.

When you remember to make things easier for people to do what you’re asking, great things happen.

Ask “What’s in it for me?”

Hey, we all think about it, there’s no need to be embarrassed. We want our team members to be top performers, talented and innovative–but we also know they need to be motivated in order to do so.

Employees who are disengaged are costing you money, but your team members who are actively disengaged are costing you even more. Studies show that giving back to others boosts the givers’ mental wellbeing, also making them happier and more committed at work.

Imagine a workforce full of folks who feel good about themselves and have a strong mental foundation; it creates a cycle of productivity and, dare I say, joy.

My takeaway from this is simple: It’s easy to miss the mark if we judge our philanthropic efforts by a single measure, dollars raised or percentage of participation. What really matters is that you’re encouraging a culture of altruism (and in doing so, building the connective tissue of your team). and being resilient.

You show your team members (and community) you care about them by listening to them, learning about them and championing the needs near and dear to their hearts.