Building a broader presence with generosity and engagement


Leslie Pine


I can distill this entire post into two words: belief and balance.

Nearly every company today is or has the potential to be global, thanks to the ability for nearly anyone to create a website and do some savvy social marketing. And at some point in any company’s evolution, the question arises: what are the issues we care about and what are we doing to create change, to engage our customers and partners, certainly, but also to create deeper bonds with employees, whose personal belief and investment in what we do is critical to growth?

Strategic corporate philanthropy, done right, is far more than a feel-good opportunity. Employees appreciate working for a company that is committed to being a good corporate citizen, and also share a sense of real engagement when they have a voice in and personal commitment to important causes within a corporate framework. As any manager who has been tasked with overseeing a company’s philanthropic work knows, the challenge is to figure out a structure and process that integrates employees in a deep and meaningful way that can extend across multiple locations and, in the case of global entities, span diverse cultures. To achieve this, I’d like to offer some brief guidance on two key elements of any such program: belief and balance.

The brand must be a true believer on issues it tackles
All the banners and incentives and sweet talk in the world will not work if it’s not as real to you as you want it to be for your employees. If a cause is worth putting your brand name behind – ending homelessness, expanding access to healthcare, fostering creativity in teaching and learning – the company as a whole represents your true commitment. This is team-building at the most elemental level, and actions and attitude do speak louder than words.

When fueled by authentic commitment, corporate philanthropy carries a special meaning for employees. It aligns with corporate goals and shared values, and creates real benefit for society while also making sense for the business. When employees say proudly that philanthropy is part of their company’s DNA, we know it is authentic and powerful.

Finding balance between corporate and the field
One of the most common questions managers at global companies ask is how to strike the right balance between what needs to be held at the corporate level and what can be decided as well as executed in the field. In TPI’s 30 years of guiding industry leaders through this process, some of the best ideas for local initiatives come from the employees themselves, who experience first-hand how companies interact with the communities they serve and in which they are located. Employees can help shape a company’s philanthropic strategy, guide grant decisions, identify nonprofit partners, organize important initiatives, offer valuable skills and expertise, and enhance social impact in countless other ways. It is less complicated than you might think to set up a centralized structure, framework, and overall goals to guide employee-driven efforts in locations where the company operates.

Finding balance between a focused mission and community demands
Corporate philanthropy can be highly effective when it involves a centralized, high-impact strategy around one or a few social issues or goals. On the other hand, employees want to engage in the causes and community efforts they care most about. One answer is to create a hybrid approach that combines the two: develop an overarching theme and giving strategy, then allow for diverse and localized efforts within that unifying structure. One TPI client, Thermo Fisher Scientific, does exactly this with a stated focus on STEM education, allowing individual locations worldwide to establish their own grassroots Community Action Councils that take the lead on volunteering and employee donations. The employees own and drive the company’s involvement at the local level, automatically tailoring every interaction to the needs of the communities in which they operate.

Employees want their jobs to be an important and engaging part of their lives. Surveys of millennials reinforce this point – but we see this desire in employees of all ages. We all want purpose, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves that has a positive impact on our communities and our world. Companies that build cultures of engagement and generosity are rewarded on multiple levels. Those companies that understand the value of a strong philanthropic strategy that engages people in meaningful ways – and that figure out how to put these ideas into action – will be the ones that reap the rewards.

To learn more about how TPI supports companies locally, nationally, and globally with their strategic philanthropy and employee engagement efforts, click here.

Leslie Pine is managing director at the Philanthropic Initiative

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