How to Inspire Philanthropy in the Workplace

Experts weigh in on the best ways to build a philanthropic corporate culture.

Workplace Philanthropy | BCBusiness
Taking staff out of the office for community outreach can help with team building and other internal aspects of the company.

Experts weigh in on the best ways to build a philanthropic corporate culture.

If the Friday morning doughnut pickup is the extent of your office’s community interaction, it might be time to think outside the boardroom. For advice on building a corporate culture of philanthropy and community outreach, we turned to three experts: Catherine Clement, vice-president of partnerships, public engagement and communications at the Vancouver Foundation; Derek Gent, executive director of the Vancity Community Foundation; and Michael McKnight, CEO of the United Way of the Lower Mainland.

Make time to do good

“I don’t have time” is the most common reason given for not being involved in philanthropy. This sentiment is magnified in a busy office environment, so Clement advises that “management has to free up the time to create that space for employees to get involved. If you’re working nine-to-six without a lunch break you’re less inclined to go out and volunteer after.” Whether it’s extra days off in lieu of volunteer hours, or a vow to match all employee donations, McKnight says taking the time to incorporate and recognize philanthropy in the workplace motivates employees to give back.

Walk the philanthropy walk

No one likes a hypocrite, especially when it comes to giving. McKnight notes that one of the most common indicators of a successful corporate philanthropy strategy is strong leadership from an executive management team. Gent adds that when employees see that their leaders and coworkers are involved in their community, “they get the sense that it’s not only OK, but it’s something we want to see, and they go out and deepen those relationships even more.”

Play to your strengths

Would you hire a bull rider to balance your books? Finding the right philanthropic niche for your business is just as important as hiring the best person for the job. For Clement, this means soliciting employee input to find a cause that aligns with staff passions, skills and interests. Similarly, Gent explains that many Vancity employees volunteer with financial literacy programs because a community initiative is more effective and manageable “when you’re able to map it to the values and purposes of the organization.”

You get what you give

While employers may fear that taking staff out of the office and into the community will decrease productivity, our experts believe there is a real business case for occasionally ditching the desk. Look for ways to turn external giving into internal development. For example, Gent describes how the hands-on experience and team-building effects of community outreach make it “more of a professional development strategy than an expense.” Good corporate citizenship also gives organizations a competitive edge, notes McKnight, as discerning customers and employees are increasingly seeking out, “employers and companies that look to the social bottom line as well as the financial bottom line.”