Recognizing the rewards of charitable work

Employees appreciate companies that value their efforts in supporting charities
By Bob Nelson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/10/2003


ooking for a new way to recognize employees this holiday season? At a time of year when people feel most inclined to give something back to the community, how about recognizing employees for their volunteer work?

Employees appreciate companies that value their efforts in supporting charities. Such behaviour reflects positively upon the individual, as well as the organization. By recognizing employees for public service work, organizational leaders show they appreciate and value the employees beyond their 9-to-5 contributions.

Create experiences and stories

There’s a wide range of ways employers can support such volunteer activities, but the best approach is to encourage active participation that creates excitement and stories.

D.D.B. Needham Worldwide, a New York-based advertising agency, gives employees a day or an afternoon off the job to work in community service or political campaigns, a homeless shelter or to clean up a local park or with another charity of their choice. This activity could be combined with an open house at the company for the supported charities to share with all employees what they do for the community.

At Maryland-headquartered spice and seasoning manufacturer McCormick & Company, employees are encouraged to work one Saturday each year, designated as “Charity Day.” Employees donate their pay for the day at time and a half to a charity and the company matches their earnings dollar for dollar. More than 90 per cent of employees take part.

Other companies turn charity work into a team-building activity, for example using the funds budgeted for a holiday party to instead build an inner-city playground or a home for Habitat for Humanity.

Charity begins at home

Charity can also be in the form of helping other employees. Saskatchewan Telecommunications raffles off prizes to employees, or others who buy tickets, and puts the proceeds into a “Help Our Own People” fund for employees who need special medical attention.

Many employees have made use of the fund, which raised almost $23,000 in its first year. At Gene’s Books in King-of-Prussia, Pa., employees can donate unused sick leave to a general fund for future employee emergencies.

Go green

The charity can also benefit the environment. Cato Johnson, a promotion agency in Lombard, Ill., offers an “Adopt-a-Tree America” kit, which contains everything needed to plant a tree in one’s backyard. Each kit has a fertilizing peat pellet, a packet of seeds, gravel and instructions; the species of tree is selected according to geographic region.

Reader’s Digest offers a community garden for employee vegetable gardens and plows and fertilizes the land for a nominal cost.

Cash also works

Money, of course, is also effective — especially for charities where the budget is met primarily through donations. At The Ken Blanchard Companies in San Diego, every employee is given a dollar amount that they can donate to a charity of their choice (employees can also volunteer to deliver donated gifts to needy families).

The Levi Strauss Foundation donates $500 to community organizations in which an employee actively participates for a year. If an employee serves on the board of a non-profit organization, the company will give that organization a grant of $500 if the organization has a budget of up to $100,000, or $1,000 for budget between $100,000 and $1 million or $1,500 for budgets more than $1 million.

State Farm Insurance Company has donated money to the Special Olympics based on agents producing certain sales levels in one program, and donated money to the Statue of Liberty restoration in another.

Recognition is what counts

Traditional award programs can also be effective — with or without added perks. At Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), annual community service awards are given to employees who have made outstanding contributions in the community, plus the company matches on a two-for-one basis any employee or retiree donation to a social service organization or college.

The Thurston-Dupar Inspirational Award is given by each Westin Hotel for employees who have not only excelled in their jobs but made important contributions in community service. A company-wide winner is then selected and receives a two-week, expense-paid vacation for two at a Westin hotel and $1,000 in cash plus airfare and expenses to attend the announcement ceremonies at the annual management conference.

Whatever an organization decides to do, employees should be involved in discussing alternatives and making the final decision as another way to show they are trusted and their contributions respected.

Recognizing employees for helping others is a meaningful way to underscore the message that employees are appreciated for everything they do.

Bob Nelson is president of Nelson Motivation Inc. in San Diego, and best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook. He can be contacted through

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