Simple starts to modernize your company’s giving programs to fit today’s needs

Volunteers filling boxes of nonperishable food items

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that tremendous need exists in our local and global communities. Increasingly, we see individuals answering that need by incorporating philanthropy into their daily lives—using a lens of social change to make personal financial decisions, such as where to shop, invest, or work.

For employers, this can have an impact outside of traditional business-as-usual. As noted in a recent Fidelity Charitable study, when 70% of employees—and 87% of Millennials—prefer to work for a socially responsible employer, it seems clear that companies have a major role to play in our philanthropic landscape.

But with so many charitable needs and countless ways for companies and employees to give back, knowing where to begin can be overwhelming. I asked Maeve Miccio, a corporate giving expert at Fidelity Philanthropic Consulting, for advice—she shared that by looking outside your traditional “corporate playbook,” leaders at any level can build a modern, relevant, and innovative giving program with a few simple steps.  

Start with an honest assessment of where you are.

Organized volunteering opportunities and company matching of employee donations are common—but important—components of broader corporate citizenship or corporate social responsibility programs. The benefits of these programs are well documented: better brand perception, talent recruitment, and employee retention top the list. In fact, employees who engage in both giving and volunteering are 57% less likely to leave their companies! 

But like any benefits program, it’s critical to check in regularly to make sure your program is still working well. And if you don’t have a program like this in place today, there are plenty of places to start! 

Be authentic.

The best corporate citizenship programs are genuine and aligned with the company’s mission and culture. They don’t represent a single person’s point of view or passions, but rather reflect the perspectives of the company, its employees, and its stakeholders. But what does all of this look like in practice?

Best-in-class corporate citizens develop long-term relationships with nonprofit partners in their communities and get to know them, the work they do, and their needs. An open and honest dialogue should exist—if your nonprofit partners share that they need financial resources, such as general operating support, listen and respond to that need.

To enable authenticity for your employees, create matching gift programs that honor the charitable passions of your associates. That means enabling employees to choose which nonprofit causes and organizations they wish to support with their dollars and time. Forming an employee giving committee empowers employees to direct philanthropic capital on behalf of the team—and can help them feel more connected to your overall goals. In fact, 86% of employees agree that customers, employees and investors should have the opportunity to be involved in corporate giving. 

Be flexible.

Think beyond traditional workplace giving campaign programs to engage your employees across generations. This may look like offering a year-round program or offering a special match opportunity in response to current events.

In designing your programs, it’s important to realize that not all employees have the financial capacity to donate money, or the time to volunteer. Your company can help resource-constrained employees give back by honoring service milestones or outstanding performance with a donation to a nonprofit organization of their choosing. Alternatively, if your company has a smaller philanthropy budget, you may consider offering additional paid time off to employees to volunteer at a nonprofit.

You may also need to look not just at the needs of the community at large, but internally at your employees’ needs. Employee emergency relief funds provide support to eligible staff members who are struggling financially due to various setbacks. Often, listening to the needs and desires of your employees can uncover key opportunities to make a much larger, direct impact in the areas you serve.  

Use an equity lens.

The racial and social justice reckonings in recent years have created opportunities for companies to reexamine and improve their philanthropic practices—which can feel both exciting and intimidating. Start with some simple questions. When making direct contributions to nonprofit partners, consider the composition of the organization’s board and staff—do they reflect the community they serve? Do they actively recruit board members and employees with a variety of backgrounds, identities, and experiences? 

If your organization has employee resource groups, include them in these conversations. You could also consider providing them funds or paid time off to contribute to issue-aligned nonprofits.

Likewise, you could help members of your staff engage with the community while also building their leadership skills. For instance, you may consider offering staff members training to prepare them for nonprofit board service. Want to dig in deeper on how to bring an equity lens to all your giving work? Don’t be afraid to call on corporate giving experts—they’ll have tons of concrete ideas for you.   

Make it efficient—and commit.

Your employees, customers, and communities are demanding philanthropic leadership from organizations like yours. With so many things on your plate, you’ll want to ensure that your corporate giving programs are straightforward to execute, manage, and fund.

Today, companies are moving away from complicated grant applications or reporting processes that are overly onerous on employees and nonprofit recipients. Consider seeking out a trusted charitable solution or partner to streamline your company’s grants or matching gift programs.

Whether you’re considering how to answer the serious needs of your community or pondering how best to compete for talent, a smart corporate citizenship program can be the solution that makes you a hero for your organization! When you’re committed to engaging with community partners and supporting employees for the long term, you’ll attract and retain top-tier talent, forge meaningful relationships in the communities where you operate, and make more of a difference.

Karla Valas

Karla Valas 

Head of Fundraising

Karla Valas leads fundraising for Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest grantmaker. The expertise from her team of Charitable Planning Consultants helps advisors and companies have more sophisticated financial planning conversations that incorporate charitable strategies, such as donor-advised funds. Ms. Valas has expertise in complex assets and previously led a team of attorneys who facilitate thousands of charitable donations of appreciated private company stock and other nonpublic assets annually. She a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College, a J.D. from New England Law and an LL.M. in Taxation from Boston University School of Law. Ms. Valas is admitted to the bar in New York State and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. . 

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