I recently had the honor of giving the Opening Keynote at The Doolittle Institute in Niceville, Florida. In their words, “The Doolittle Institute has the privilege of providing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to thousands of underserved students, many of them military personnel. These hands-on programs include robotics, coding, computer-aided design, managing job stress, time management, and others. One of our primary goals is to inspire and educate our country’s future workforce.” About half of my audience were in uniform. Needless to say, I was inspired to bring my “A game” and deliver a kick-ass keynote speech.
This interaction with some of our nation’s serving military got me thinking about a key, and often forgotten, driver of employee engagement: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is getting more and more management attention, primarily because it is a key driver of engagement for the two youngest workforce generations, Millennials and Generation Z. In fact, 9 out of 10 Millennials would switch jobs in order to work for a cause or charity.1 And 94% of Gen Z believe companies have a responsibility to address social and environmental issues.2 Companies are realizing that charitable-giving can help attract and retain top talent and also lead to improved productivity, employee engagement, reduced turnover, and higher profitability. As such, U.S. companies gave about $20.7 billion to charitable causes worldwide in 2017, up 8% from 2016.3
During my speech, and in the spirit of “giving back,” I offered all attendees free career coaching with me after the presentation. Five of the service men and woman took me up on that offer, and I will continue to give them advice on their career and/or help them find a career that they could become more passionate about than their current role.
Here are 6 great ideas on how you can leverage the power of CSR and show your team members that you are indeed “giving back” to the communities served by your organization:
1. Offer cost-free services to the communities you serve.
2. Provide a free volunteer day to each of your team members at the charity of their choice, so they can give back without losing a day’s pay.
3. Plan a team volunteer day where the whole staff takes the day off work to volunteer together. Volunteering at Habitat For Humanity and/or at a local soup kitchen are employee favorites.
4. Offer pro bono career development help to local high schools and/or universities. Just two weeks ago, I gave a speech to the Business Leadership class at my daughter’s high school, New Trier, in Winnetka, Illinois. It was not only rewarding to teach these aspiring business people, but I fielded some questions I’ve never been asked in my nine years of doing keynote speeches. Interacting with these young people also helps keep you young.
5. Establish a charitable giving matching program. Shockingly, only 18% of companies have a gift-matching program.4 Needless to say, this represents a huge opportunity for improvement.
6. Give your employees a greater say in your charitable giving. Many employees are yearning to express their personal values at work, so give them the opportunity vis-a-vis charitable giving. And by matching their contribution, you are showing them that you endorse and support their choices. Importantly, when doing your annual “State of the Company” address to your employees, make sure you include a listing of all of the charities to which you matched employees’ contributions. You are likely to see people tear up since many of those gifts positively impacted a friend or family member.
While I was selling my company about nine years ago, I knew the sale would ultimately lead to me receiving a significant sum of money. (This is known by investment bankers as “a liquidity event,” which is just a fancy way of saying someone is giving you a lot of money for the company you built from scratch.) I wanted to share my success with others and continue giving back, even though it wouldn’t be through my company anymore.
I was mulling this over on the Sunday before the sale of my company, while I was reading the newspaper. I came across the Parade magazine insert, and it featured the Actor Gary Sinise, who of course, brilliantly played “Lieutenant Dan” in the movie Forrest Gump. Sinise expressed that it was an enormous honor to play this disabled vet, and he made a commitment to always pay for military service members’ meal and drinks when seeing them in an airport. He thereby gave me a gift as I was searching for a way to give back after my liquidity event. I made the same commitment to always pay for military personnel’s drinks and meals while traveling and thank them for their service. Doing this has repeatedly warmed my heart.
Years later, I realized that helping veterans with their careers is another way I can give back. If you are a veteran who is in need of career development help, I’d love to speak with you. Whether you need advice with job interviews, developing certain skillsets, or finding a position that better leverages your talents and interests, I’d love to help. Please contact me directly.
Whether it’s through your company or on your own, the greatest gift you can give to yourself is a gift to others.