Advice & tips from Kim Jenson – managing director and complex manager of the UBS Wealth Management Chicago Tower Complex. She has more than 30 years’ experience in financial services.

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With the Christmas season upon us, people tend to be in generous moods and planning year-end donations to benefit favourite causes.

This can be the perfect time for businesses to build or expand their corporate philanthropy programmes for next year.

When it comes to corporate philanthropy, the saying “doing well by doing good” certainly applies. In addition to helping to support the community, corporate philanthropy can be an effective tool for building leaders, engaging and retaining employees, and recruiting future associates.

Creating enthused employees

A corporate philanthropy programme is a terrific way to foster energized, engaged employees. A community involvement study conducted by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship in 2015 found that nearly 90 percent of companies surveyed discovered a positive correlation between volunteer participation and employee engagement.

Being involved in something bigger than ourselves can contribute to a sense of pride and cohesiveness in the workplace. At a time when employees are likely stretched thin with commitments to both work and family, it’s difficult to find the glue to connect everyone together. Philanthropy can be that glue.

In order for it to work, it’s imperative to find various options that will speak to people’s hearts and their ability to commit. I recently heard someone say, “My heart is bigger than my wallet, so when I choose to give, it needs to speak to my heart so I can also contribute my time and talent.” That really struck me. Not everyone can write a check, so it’s important to provide options for people to share their time and effort.

This means scheduling philanthropy projects at various times and of various durations. Our branch recently had a Saturday outing at a local food bank where we learned about the mission of the organization then donned hairnets and gloves and went to work assembling meal packages. It was a wonderful team-building experience.

Recognizing that not everyone would be able to devote a Saturday to this, we also created opportunities for employees to give back right from the office with a shorter time commitment. Currently we are collecting non-perishable food items for our local food pantry. The idea is to be flexible, appeal to different interests, and engage the greatest number of people.

Giving budding leaders a chance to shine

Involving employees in creating, managing and implementing philanthropic programmes allows them to test and hone skills and permits managers to give employees added responsibilities in a relatively risk-free environment. In a Robert Half survey on volunteerism in 2015, employees reported that philanthropic involvement helps them develop new skills and expand their networks.

By offering pro bono giving opportunities, companies also allow employees to use and build their skills while exposing them to different types of businesses. Many employers now offer paid time off for volunteering. This is a terrific way to recognize these efforts, encourage employees to lead by example, and offer them the time to share their gifts.

Building a do-good reputation

Finally, a solid philanthropy programme also helps boost the reputation of your company, which pays dividends with employee recruitment as well as client attraction and retention.

The community involvement study conducted by Boston College found that more than 40 percent of companies surveyed felt that community involvement was essential to their firms’ reputations.

For this reason, it’s important to engage your customers and clients in your philanthropy efforts when possible by letting them know about your involvement and giving them opportunities to participate.

For example, my office recently was involved in a “Cards for Kids” effort, making handmade cards for very sick kids at a local children’s hospital. We provided all the materials needed and allowed employees to use work time to get creative and make a greeting card to brighten a child’s day. This was a great way to allow employees to easily get involved with a minimal time commitment, and it was a terrific team builder.

We also put signs up in our office inviting clients to stop by and make a card. This was a fun way to involve our clients in our community efforts, potentially deepening our relationships in the process.

Getting started

When starting a corporate philanthropy programme, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Consider starting a community involvement council. Involve employees to determine the types of causes that are important to the group to support. Are there specific causes that are especially important because of a personal connection? Is there a need in the community that is close to your business location where you can have a big impact?
  2. Provide options. Select several causes to support so employees will be comfortable and enthused with at least one choice. Educate employees around the issues selected so employees understand what the organization does and how your efforts will help.
  3. Broaden the group. Find ways to involve family and clients. A Saturday activity might be attractive for families, whereas workday events might entice clients to roll up their sleeves in the community with you.
  4. Say thank you. Recognize reaching philanthropic involvement goals with a “reward” that’s meaningful to employees. This could be a dress down day, early Friday release, or earned time off. Ask employees to decide what is meaningful to them.
  5. Show your good work. Place signs in your office, circulate news and photos of employees involved in volunteer efforts in company newsletters, notify the local newspaper.
  6. Finally, make philanthropy part of your culture. Local charities often are bombarded over the traditional holidays and feel forgotten the rest of the year. By partnering with organizations, you can better meet their needs while also meeting the needs of your employees. That’s doing well by doing good.