The holiday season always motivates us to give back, but a company-wide campaign can provide for charity where and when it’s needed most – locally and all year long.
I really like this quote from Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” As professionals who work hard to support our families and acquire the things we have, we can get caught up in deadlines and personal activities and easily forget how privileged we are. The holidays have a way of motivating us to slow down, be thankful for our blessings, and remind us of others who are less fortunate.
Everywhere I go, I see fundraisers, clothing and food drives, and volunteering opportunities. The generosity feels contagious. So, after the holiday lights go back in storage, how do we keep the momentum and make giving back a part of our life, as Churchill suggests? There are so many people who need our help all year long.
This is a big challenge for Westwood. As a successful firm, I believe it is our responsibility to give back a percentage of the profits that we generate. I also think it’s important to encourage employees to contribute where they can make a difference. And, both are important all year long. With multiple offices across the country, it can be difficult to keep companywide momentum. We don’t claim to have it all figured out, but here are a few things that I think can help.
- Align giving with core values. I listed this one first because having a vision and alignment for anything we want to achieve helps get the wheels moving. When we identify where we want to make a difference with our giving, we can engage employees and establish focus and consistency. Charitable activities are a great way to create internal awareness of a company’s value, too. For example, Westwood’s core values state that we value each other, our clients, and the communities we touch. So, for us, we align our giving to our values by supporting organizations that are near and dear to the hearts of our employees and clients. We also make sure we give back to communities that support our local offices and projects. A vision for giving helps us zero in on opportunities. Having a committee to guide the effort helps, too. Westwood’s corporate “Giving Back” committee provides recommendations and support for activities and funding.
- Spread out giving allocations. A lot of companies pick one major recipient to receive a generous gift. Is that a good idea? Or is it better to share the wealth? I can see the benefits of both. Westwood used to do this, but we’ve shifted gears. I like the idea of helping the little guys – those organizations operating right within our neighborhoods. It personalizes our efforts and gets employees and their families engaged. We don’t ignore the bigger organizations. We just prefer to choose the ones that provide direct local support. And, by dividing up our giving across many charitable groups, we can easily give all year long.
Sometimes, our contributions land on one of our own – and it is really touching to see our staff pull together to help a fellow team member. I recall when two employees agreed to shave their heads if a certain amount was raised to support another employee’s personal situation. Westwood also promised a dollar match. It didn’t take long to reach that goal and it was fun to watch the guys lose their hair! The point is, by being flexible with allocations people get excited to make things happen.
- Encourage employees to take the lead. One of the biggest successes in Westwood’s giving back efforts was to reach out to our employees for recommendations for charitable giving. I think most firms would be happy to see how many of their people really care for and support charities. Some of our employees seek donation support, while others want to coordinate volunteering activities. We only require that the causes we back are deeply important to our employees and clients, and align with our Giving Back vision, which is helping children and families, fighting hunger, finding cures for disease, or assisting veterans.
We are often asked if the time spent volunteering is covered by Westwood. In unique situations it has worked, but it isn’t necessarily feasible for our business. I believe it’s just as important to give individually as it is to do so as a company. It is really up to our employees whether they choose to volunteer during a workday. Westwood finds other ways of being generous with our time and dollars to ensure we support our employees’ contributions.
- Create a culture of giving through leaders, clients, and communities. I don’t want anyone in our company to think twice about giving all year long, so I think we have to use a variety of influential channels, including leadership, clients, and communities, as well as our employees.
Leading by example is a great place to start. Westwood shareholders and senior leaders are actively involved in all sorts of philanthropic activities. Empathy is important in leadership as it strengthens our understanding of our role in business and society.
Our clients know that they can come to us to support a cause that is deeply important to them. We used to send holiday cards that let our clients know that “on their behalf we made a large donation to” an organization that we chose. Though the donation was made with sincere intent, it may not have meant so much to the client. Giving back is more than writing a check at the end of the year. There is a lot of thought and effort to make sure we are contributing where we can make the most impact.
Warm memories and traditions come with a giving back culture. Every year, we plan for a fundraising gala in March, serving at a homeless shelter in May, building homes for Habitat in July, and collecting toys, coats, and food in November. These are just a few things we do to that encourage traditional activities. People enjoy the consistency and look forward to making a difference in their communities.
- Plan ahead. November is a time when we budget Giving Back dollars to support year-long activities for the coming year. We set aside an amount for each office based on the number of employees in their location. The offices are free to use their fund however they see fit. We also have a reserve of flexible dollars for special requests from staff and clients, as well as distributions for student scholarships and project-based community giving.
When the holidays have come and gone, these activities help us to remember all that we get while we make our living so that we can make a life better by giving all year long. And, when that happens, we realize the real joy of giving.
Paul Greenhagen is president and CEO of Westwood Professional Services. Contact him at email@example.com.