Charitable Giving: Making It Work for Your Small Business

Giving back to charity has reciprocal benefits that stretch far beyond anything your small business is able to contribute financially.



Creating a Charitable Giving Program at Your Small Business -- and Making It Work

The holiday season can mean a host of different things: decorating, celebrating, lights, spending time with family, helping seasonal businesses ramp up, and getting ready for the new year. For Stratus HR employees, it also means selecting a charitable organization to be the recipient of employee and client donations.

In 2018, Stratus HR employees selected NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, for their charity of choice. “Everyone knows someone who has been affected by mental illness,” said Michelyn Farnsworth, Stratus President and Co-founder. “When the Sub-4-Santa committee learned about NAMI, all hands went up. Everyone agreed it was where we wanted to focus our efforts this year.”

How to create a charitable giving program that works for your company.

Stratus HR’s Sub-4-Santa committee is an employee-driven group that selects the charity, announces the program to employees, and coordinates employee and client donations. In years past, the group has worked directly with individual families, local schools, and Kids Eat, an organization that fills weekend backpacks with food for school kids who may not have food otherwise.

In mid-November this year, Stratus presented NAMI with a check for $1,800, representing contributions from employees, clients, and client employees who want to improve life for people with mental illness. “We can’t give as much as big corporations, so we involve our clients. This collective effort allows these non-profit groups to extend their reach a little further and make a much bigger impact than we can on our own,” said Farnsworth.

Beyond the intrinsic benefits of donating towards a good cause, there are also benefits for employee engagement. “We may have been skeptics about the practical use of employees’ time when we first started our Sub-4-Santa committee,” said Farnsworth. “But its value goes much deeper than a few missed work hours. Our employees love it and we love knowing that we’re not only helping the community, but we’re enhancing our culture.”

If you’re considering working with a charitable partner either during the holidays or throughout the year, Farnsworth has several suggestions on how to make it work:

  1. Focus on charities with missions similar to your company’s. Forbes magazine indicates this is step #1 in selecting a charitable organization for your team, and Farnsworth agrees that it builds more excitement for employees, too.
  2. Empower employees to make the final decision. As a business owner, you may have a charity you already work with closely -- and that’s fine. But allowing employees to select the company’s charity ensures engagement will be high.
  3. Ensure you’re not accidentally forcing donations. Giving should be voluntary, which is why it’s advisable to keep competition out of the donation process. For example, rewarding the team that donates the most money can put unnecessary and unwanted pressure on employees who may be cash-strapped or have a different charity that they’d prefer to give to. One exception: canned food drives, which can get a big boost when a little competition is added.
  4. Look for opportunities to make the charitable connection personal. This includes opportunities to help the charity onsite or even to learn from the charity. If, for example, your charity is a homeless shelter or a food bank, inquire about donating time.
  5. Take every opportunity to learn. Learning from the charity can make the impact even greater. After their charity selection this year, NAMI taught Stratus employees a suicide prevention class. Information learned will be invaluable for the company’s HR consultants, who work directly with employers and employees and need to be prepared with resources and information.

If this is your first venture with charitable giving, start small and watch for all the good that comes from the experience. “There are so many noble charities that are strapped for funds, time, manpower, or resources,” said Farnsworth. “Every little bit helps, so don’t think that your efforts won’t make a difference.”

Image: Employees from Stratus HR present Robert Wesemann, Executive Director of NAMI Utah, with a check representing donations from employees and clients.

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