The art of altruism is alive and well among many of today's most well-heeled corporations. Throughout U.S. ghettos and low-income communities, employees—with the blessing and financial support of their employers—are working in soup kitchens, mentoring troubled youths and mending urban dwellings. Litter is being cleared from our nation's streets, parks and playgrounds; the homebound are delivered meals or offered transportation; shelters that care for aids patients, domestic violence victims and the homeless receive regular visits from employees who, often on the company clock, perform invaluable social services.
For concerned corporate citizens, the tangible benefits are clear: enhanced brand image and increased customer loyalty. By aiding and abetting employee volunteerism, companies also increase their overall competitiveness in the global marketplace, provide training and skill-building for employees, and send good vibrations throughout the workforce.
"The really powerful message to send to employees is that the company cares," says Carolyn Cavicchio, president and ceo of Changing Our World's philanthropy division. The New York-based organization works with corporations, private foundations and individuals looking to initiate charitable programs or strengthen volunteer efforts. Cavicchio, who has helped develop philanthropic programs for many companies, including Philip Morris, Kraft, Miller Brewing and The mony Group, has witnessed first-hand how employee volunteerism and cause-related marketing can be a force in recruitment, retention and team building and can provide a work/life tonic that fulfills the social consciousness.
"If you couple corporate financial contributions with employee time and energy," explains Cavicchio, "it solidifies a company's commitment to the community while providing real solutions to problems. It makes a measurable difference and everybody wins."
From a recruitment standpoint, two surveys clearly indicate strong public and employee attitudes about corporate philanthropy. More than 50 percent of students would accept lower pay to work for a company they found socially responsible, according to a survey by the Cambridge, Mass.-chapter of Students for Responsible Business, which surveyed students from the country's top business schools. Some 43 percent said they would not work for an employer who wasn't a good corporate citizen.
The 1999 Cone/Ropper Cause Trends Report took five years of data to gauge the impact of cause-related marketing. The report showed that 87 percent of employees at companies with cause programs said they feel a strong sense of loyalty to their employer, while 56 percent said they wished their companies would do more to support a cause or an issue.
Leading by Example
Among the elder statesmen of charitable giving, Philip Morris has been donating grants and supporting worldwide nonprofit organizations since 1956. In the past decade, the world's largest producer and marketer of consumer packaged goods has contributed more than $1 billion in cash and food donations—$125 million in 2000 alone. By calibrating these efforts with its heavy-hitting subsidiaries, Kraft and Miller Brewing Co., Philip Morris has developed an impressive track record of sponsoring employee volunteer efforts and has successfully galvanized employee participation from the top brass to the entry level.
Among the food-producing giant's philanthropic endeavors are hunger relief efforts through the Philip Morris Fight Against Hunger program and domestic violence efforts that offer confidential assistance and education to its own employees as well as to other companies. "Dollars For Doers," initiated this year, encourages employees to champion the charity of their choice, and after 50 hours of service to a nonprofit, Philip Morris contributes $1,000.
"It's a tremendous morale builder for us," says Karen Brosius, director of corporate affairs. "It's very much integrated into what our values are, and we feel our employees in particular are very much interested in working for a company that wants to share its resources, employee creativity and power within the community."
With a philanthropic budget of $31 million for 2001, American Express, Memphis, has deep pockets for charitable giving. In addition to its many company-sponsored programs such as the Charge Against Hunger, March of Dimes, Special Olympics and aids walks, Am Ex employees throughout the world are given free rein to champion a nonprofit of their choice, with the company's Global Volunteer Action Fund, which provides grants of up to $1,000 for individuals and $2,500 for a team.
Am Ex is quite aware of the intangible impact of being a good, and visible, corporate citizen. Beth Salerno, president of the Am Ex Foundation works closely with the HR department to find ways to use philanthropy as a means to improve recruitment and retention. "We've seen an increase in inquiries from college and university students who want to know what our record is, if there will be opportunities to do volunteer work and if we're supportive of that," she says. "I hear it now much more than I did 10 years ago."
The mony Group's mony Foundation supports volunteerism in several ways. Since 1996, the company has invested more than $350,000 toward providing resources, expertise and community service to more than 125 New York City schools and after-school programs.
Through its Volunteer Incentive Award established in 1981, mony makes $100 donations to employees who volunteer for a minimum of five hours per six month period at the nonprofit of their choice. The New York-based financial services firm also partners with the national Everybody Wins Organization, a program in which employees volunteer during their lunchtime one day a week to read to local elementary school students.
"I have been reading with Mark for three years and it has truly become a special relationship," says Carla Cohn, mony's director of information technology. "This was the first time I've volunteered for a reading program and appreciate the support mony gives to make this opportunity possible. It's another indication of how mony is not just a company, but also a place that cares about its people and the community."
Oftentimes, a company will use its product line to promote charity. The Longaberger Co., a $1 billion basket-making giant based in Dresden, Ohio, has a five-year commitment to the American Cancer Society. Every July and August, it sells a "Horizon of Hope" basket stuffed full of breast cancer literature, with $2 of every sale going toward acs research. Employees not only raise money, they also educate their customers on prevention, which, for the company, is a source of satisfaction.
"It affects everbody," says Changing Our World's Lisa Buckly, who created the program for Longaberger. "I would just walk down the halls and someone would pull me aside and say, 'My God, my mother had this. This is an important thing we're doing.' They all felt a part of it, and they felt that sense of pride."
Some companies take their philanthropic efforts into the classroom. Federal Express, for example, encourages managers to enroll in company-sponsored training programs that teach them the skills to lead a charitable initiative. Senior managers with more than three years experience and managers with at least five can enlist in Leadership Zone Class—a three-day training session in which attendees are initiated into the company's United Way program. On the third day, the managers are brought to a United Way agency where they learn how to work with a nonprofit and oversee a particular volunteer effort.
The response to the Leadership Zone Class has been positive, says Deb Culberhouse-Fortune, assurance manager for Fed Ex's agfs, (Air, Ground and Freight Services). Culberhouse-Fortune, who has spearheaded Federal Express' United Way efforts for the past two years (see sidebar, next page), says the classes give managers a unique leadership experience that rubs off on their professional lives. "The impact goes back to their own communities and to them as people," she says. "Some of the managers have been with the company for 20 years and are close to retiring, but after seeing the impact they can have in their communities and on their co-workers, they decided to stay on with the company."
Should they retire, however, Federal Express employees can still count on a call-to-action, if Culberhouse-Fortune has her way. Her United Way team has taken pains to contact and involve the company's 4,000 retirees. "We let our retirees know that they are still part of the family, and we are not going to let them forget it," she says.
When it comes to using volunteer efforts to develop employee relations and foster team spirit, many companies turn to departmental outings. In 1999, for example, nearly 200 Philip Morris and Kraft employees from the company's New York headquarters teamed with an environmental group called the New York Restoration Project to clean and restore the much-neglected borough of Highbridge Park. The volunteers cleared more than 20,000 pounds of debris in one day and planted nine large trees, 91 shrubs and more than 1,200 flowering plants.
Philip Morris' Brosius recalls a recent outing in which 30 employees painted the inside of a domestic violence shelter. "There's such a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day as a team," Brosius says. "I think the power of teamwork outclasses an all-star individual any day of the week."
Last fall, Christine Cappello, manager of Philip Morris' employee fund, brainstormed an idea to take small teams and have them volunteer for one month at a time at the nonprofit of their choice. Called dove (Dedicating Our Volunteer Efforts), the program offers a nonprofit organization the assurance of consistent and able volunteer assistance.
Laurie Guzzinati in corporate communications had a "dove month" last Easter when she and her fellow co-workers packed groceries at a local Manhattan church and prepared meals for needy families. Says Guzzinati, "It was so meaningful, especially around the holiday. We felt how important it was for us to be there because it came at a time when they really needed some help distributing the food."
Volunteer efforts can range from an individual with a passion for a particular cause, to small groups working in teams. Sometimes, even an entire company gets involved. Once a year, Miller Brewing sponsors Miller Cares, a "day of caring" in which the entire company gives up its time for a community project in Milwaukee. Last year, Jeff Hembrock, vice president of trade marketing at Miller, decided to volunteer his division at a local hunger task force where they assembled, boxed and sorted food. Later that day, the division held a work-related meeting that was the most enthusiastic, productive meeting the division has ever had, according to Gill Llanas, Miller Brewing's manager of community affairs.
"The company saw how well this worked out for that division, how great a team building effort it was, and the sense of accomplishment those employees had that we now are trying to keep many of our volunteer efforts within work teams," says Llanas.
The key to Miller Brewing's recent surge in employee volunteerism, says Changing Our World's Cavicchio, is the support shown by ceo John Bowlin. In fact, Bowlin wrote the memo encouraging employees to get more involved on its "Care" days, and set the example by joining in with his employees.
"That's a powerful thing to do when your ceo is out there with his sleeves rolled up, pushing a wheelbarrow, helping to build a community garden," says Cavicchio. "It's a great example to send to the rest of the company about the importance of community involvement, and the workers feed off that."
More than just cutting a check, this kind of community involvement has a profound impact on the general public, and not just a company and its employees. In fact, when appraising a company's corporate citizenship, the cause itself or the direct involvement of company employees is more prominent in the minds of Americans, according to a survey by New York-based public relations firm Hill and Knowlton and marketing research firm Yankelovich Partners. The survey found that out of 1,000 Americans polled, 43 percent were "most impressed" by companies who donated products and services rather than money for their charitable efforts. Thirty-seven percent said they believed employee volunteer time was key to corporate charity, while only 12 percent of respondents said they were impressed by money-only donations.
"Volunteerism is one element that goes into retaining a good employee," says Lynn Stekis of the mony Foundation. "It's not the only element, but in a multifaceted approach to retaining employees, this is definitely one of the strong ones. Doing something positive in the community gives employees a feeling of connectedness and a feeling that it's not just about doing business."