Leadership Matters
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HR giving back in a meaningful way 

By Jamie Hoobanoff


We all know that giving back is an important part of business, but just how important is it? Who does it benefit and how do we ensure that employees get involved?

Many companies emphasize their commitment to making a difference in their community; however, in some cases, this is simply a PR or marketing tactic. It’s one thing to talk about giving back, it’s another to turn those commitments into tangible actions.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become vital to attracting talent. According to a study from the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, the number of companies directing corporate citizenship from the C-suite has increased nearly 75 per cent compared to five years ago. Leaders are even willing to take a pay cut for a company with a strong giving back policy, prompting businesses to rethink their programs.


Determining the “why”

Before pushing these programs, companies must evaluate why initiatives focused on giving back are important to their employees. Once this is determined, company leaders can determine how the skills, experience and knowledge found throughout their business can be applied to different initiatives. The next step is determining what kind of programs are out there, who’s giving back and how a business can contribute in the most significant way.


Business is good, but is your business doing good?

Giving back to a community, supporting non-profits and promoting passion-driven initiatives can be extremely rewarding for any business. According to a study by YourCause.com, CSR engagement increases productivity by nearly 15 per cent. Companies also saw a 50 per cent decrease in turnover when engaging in CSR activities.

However, to make these initiatives effective, leaders must take a bottom-up approach to the structure and promotion of their giving back programs. Finding out what’s important to employees in an organization is the best place to start. What are employees passionate about? Are they already involved in volunteer programs outside of work? Getting the answers to these kinds of questions will only make it easier to enhance a CSR program.

Giving employees some choice in the ways in which they give back not only creates greater employee morale, it also empowers them. Contributing to this kind of work tends to yield fulfillment and a different sense of achievement than the day-to-day responsibilities of a job.

Although a business may have an outstanding CSR program, the rate of employee participation could be lower than anticipated. Effective communication across all levels of a business plays an important role in increasing participation. For example, employees typically don’t respond to these programs if they are only being pushed by the CEO. But if they know peers are involved in initiatives, employees are more motivated to join them. When it comes to this kind of engagement, co-workers are perceived to be more authentic and trustworthy than a C-level leader.

The structure of these programs also contributes to employee involvement. Allowing employees to take paid-time off (PTO) to volunteer at an organization is extremely motivating and is also an appealing proposition for new recruits. For example, giving each employee 10 hours of PTO to volunteer during working hours every month is a great way to improve participation levels. Additionally, online engagement with employees will help to drive participation. Relationships with employees, clients and the industry are built using social media platforms and top performing companies tend to have high engagement with employees through these mediums. The result is the creation of brand ambassadors from within, while ensuring transparency, authenticity and relatable content is communicated properly.


Who will take the lead?

By empowering team leads, companies create more engagement among employees and foster better communication and conversations surrounding volunteer initiatives. When programs are discussed by team leaders, the initiatives become more tangible for employees. Their passion and knowledge are transferred to team members, making it easier for employees to become involved in the giving back program.


Do something great

If an organization has a great giving back program, employees are involved and the business is making a difference, HR professionals can take a step back to evaluate how else they can personally give back beyond time and money. With a wealth of knowledge, years of experience and education, HR professionals can apply themselves and their organizations to initiatives in different ways. Having taken risks and experienced trials and tribulations over the course of their careers, HR professionals can provide career advice, assist with resume building and give guidance for obtaining jobs in their industry. Youth, students and new immigrants would benefit greatly from these kinds of contributions.

In addition, companies can bring the professional skills and experience of their employees to not-for-profit initiatives and contribute time, advice and knowledge rather than just money. This will encourage employees to apply their professional skills and personal interests to a cause they believe in. HR professionals can also emphasize the importance of introducing new or sustaining existing CSR and HR programs that matter, rather than looking for approaches that simply support a company’s public relations strategy.


Who’s giving back?

Although some businesses view the idea of giving back as more of a marketing scheme, many companies are doing good for the right reasons. Here are some companies that should be recognized for their CSR practices:

Salesforce – The cloud computing company makes volunteering a part of its culture through its Employee Engagement Programs, Skills-Based Volunteering and Employee-Inspired Volunteering, in which employees are given seven paid days of time off each year to volunteer in any way they choose.

Rogers – The company is dedicated to helping some of the brightest young leaders across the country succeed in their educational aspirations by providing scholarships and community grants. In 2017, team members contributed more than 10,000 volunteer hours through its corporate Give Together volunteer days, where employees receive a paid day off to volunteer.

Patagonia – As a huge supporter of environmental work, Patagonia gives its employees the opportunity to contribute their time through their Environmental Internship, tree planting, beach clean-ups and Miracle Grants programs.

StackAdapt – As the top programmatic native advertising platform, this company gives employees one volunteer day each year to give back to a charity initiative of their choosing. Employees are also able to make time for group volunteer events. Some initiatives they’ve been involved with are the CAMH Gift of Light, the Humane Society and after school children’s programs.


How to give back?

When giving back, sometimes a company’s most difficult decision is determining how its resources will deliver the most impact. It’s important to thoroughly research initiatives a company may support. The key is to understand the mission behind a cause: Who do they help? How do they help? Where are resources allocated? By connecting with leaders of the organization, a company can gain a more in-depth perspective on their mission and areas of need. Some causes worth mentioning include Eva’s Initiatives, an organization dedicated to helping homeless youth in Toronto and the GTA; more well-known, Habitat for Humanity focuses on creating and fostering decent and affordable housing for families.

Businesses are driving positive change in their communities worldwide. It’s just a matter of finding one that both employees and an organization believes in and can commit to helping.

Jamie Hoobanoff is founder and CEO of The Leadership Agency.



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