By Claire Hastwell
Great workplaces know that giving back to the community boosts employee morale and fosters pride within the company. Employees value corporate social responsibility because it gives their jobs special meaning: when employees can connect their work to what is happening outside in the broader community, they feel an increased sense of purpose at work. Generous community giving has consistently ranked as one of the biggest drivers of better employee experience.
Many companies contribute to their communities by giving employees generous allotments of paid time off for volunteering, matching their employees’ charitable donations, and building a philosophy of corporate social responsibility into the very fabrics of their businesses. Organizations that are looking for new ways to support their local communities should take inspiration from the giving practices of some of the companies on the most recent edition of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list.
In addition to financial donations, many companies give back in ways that are unique to their business model. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses used their own products and services to support their communities. For example, both Hyatt and Hilton offered complimentary hotel rooms to first responders. Cisco donated its unused videoconferencing equipment to medical providers, Baptist Health South Florida offered free virtual health classes to the public, and Publix donated surplus deli chicken to community food banks.
Many companies provide employees with a yearly allowance of paid time off for working with local charities. Organizing volunteering as a team is another option. For example, Allianz Life Insurance employees delivered Second Harvest produce boxes to struggling families, and CarMax employees helped build KABOOM! playgrounds in play deserts. In 2020 Orrick launched a fellowship program that enables its lawyers to devote a year—at full pay—to working full time on issues of civil rights, criminal justice reform, social justice, and economic equity at six different nonprofit organizations.
Corporate matching on employee donations is a great way to offer support, but matching doesn’t have to be limited to dollar-for-dollar exchanges. If employees aren’t in a financial position to donate their own money in exchange for a corporate monetary match, allowing them to donate their time instead is an excellent alternative. For example, American Fidelity Assurance Company gives organizations $10 for each hour that its employees volunteer there. When one of its employees serves on the board of a nonprofit, the company contributes $1,000 per year to that organization.
Companies can get their customers involved by asking them to participate in the company’s charitable initiatives. Not only does this increase awareness of the cause, but it also shows customers what the company stands for. For example, an organization can invite its customers to donate their reward points to nonprofit organizations, then convert those points to monetary donations and match them.
When companies partner with local schools or youth groups to offer education and training programs, employees can feel pride as they mentor someone in need, and mentees can gain unique skills from their mentors’ expertise. For example, Salesforce pairs its employees with small business owners for one-on-one mentorships that support entrepreneurs in areas such as accounting, operations, and marketing. IBM’s P-TECH program is a public-education model that helps high school students from underserved backgrounds gain skills they need for careers in STEM.
The time when businesses were afraid to wade into social and political conversations has long passed, and now companies are increasingly speaking out against injustices rather than playing it safe. For example, a senior physician at Northwell Health organized a White Coats for Black Lives event in which employees in all of Northwell’s hospitals went outside and took a knee in honor of George Floyd. At Experian, the company’s Asian American employee resource group mobilized to aid owners of Asian restaurants who were being racially targeted, while its African American employee resource group created a guide to teach employees how to be catalysts for change in their communities.
Being an eco-conscious company isn’t just good for the environment—it’s also good for employee engagement and retention. (For example, over 70 percent of Millennials who participated in one recent survey indicated that they strongly preferred to “work at a company with a strong environmental agenda.”) Green initiatives don’t have to stand alone and can be integrated with other campaigns. For example, in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, Atlassian combined an exercise competition with climate activism by planting one tree for every 300 steps taken by employees. L3Harris Technologies employees in Waco, Texas, saw a way to combine Earth Day with COVID-19 relief support by recycling surplus materials to produce cloth face masks for the community.
Companies can honor employees (or groups of employees) who have made an exceptional difference in the lives of others. This tribute could take a variety of forms, such as a financial incentive, an awards celebration, or a donation in the employees’ names to a community organization. In 2020 O.C. Tanner created its Human Values Gifts, financial contributions to nonprofits or charities that support the BIPOC community. These gifts were donated in the names of employees who bravely shared their own experiences with racism and inclusion at the company’s town hall meeting to address those issues.
With the war for talent showing no signs of ending any time soon, companies must continue to do all they can to attract and retain their best employees. By expanding their community giving programs beyond monetary matching to include adopting new, innovative giving strategies, companies can boost employee morale and loyalty.
Claire Hastwell is a senior content marketing manager with Great Place to Work, where she works with data and company culture experts to distill the psychology of high-trust workplaces. She coauthored the “Women in the Workplace” report, and her profiles of Best Workplaces have been featured in Fortune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.