Corporate philanthropy and the purpose-driven workplace

Today marks 103 years since the death of Andrew Carnegie, the famous philanthropist. To mark the occasion, we asked Julie Wynne, Chair of the STEP Philanthropy Advisors Special Interest Group, to write a blog on one of today’s hot topics: corporate philanthropy – and how companies can create a purpose-driven workplace that truly gives back to society.

Millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) consider more and more that the primary purpose of businesses should be to improve society instead of purely generating profit. Corporate philanthropy becomes a good way to further this quest for purpose and enable your employees to use their skills to benefit society and the environment. This is even more relevant and crucial in these turbulent times, where companies have seen a wave of resignations and significant staff turnover.

There are various ways companies can establish a purpose-driven workplace and it leads to engaged employees who perform better, experience less burnout and stay at the company longer.

Finding your purpose

First, the company itself must review its organisation and operations and find out how to embed values and have a positive impact on society and the environment. Working with different people from across the organisation, ideally from different positions and levels, is a good way to gain alignment around a common vision of the organisation and create bonds between the employees.

The purpose should reflect aspirations and vision. It should explain how the company and its employees are making a difference. This provides a sense of meaning and draws support from employees. Once the purpose and values are defined, it is important to show that they are central to business strategy and that the management endorses them fully. Purpose is inherently about authenticity and commitment. Without these, it can create disengagement. Once management has embraced the organisation’s purpose, they must help employees see how it relates to their day-to-day tasks and together find ways to implement it in their own practice so that it permeates the organisation’s culture.

Supporting employee philanthropy

Second, the company can launch a corporate philanthropy initiative with the employees. This can take various forms.
Payroll giving: Through payroll giving, employees give to charities directly from their salary. Donations are tax effective because they are taken before tax is applied, which means the charity receives more of your employee’s donation and costs the employee less. Payroll giving empowers employees to support the causes that are the most important to them, providing charities with a long-term and regular income stream.
• Matched giving (also known as match funding): Matched giving is one of the most recognised corporate philanthropy tools. With matching gifts, companies match some percentage of donations to charities by employees. Some companies offer this on a ‘pound-for-pound’ basis, while others will specify the amount that they are prepared to give.
• Pro bono: With pro bono, the employees contribute their skills to charities. The employees’ time, energy, and effort is donated instead of compensated. It is beneficial to charities as often they spend the majority of their funding on programme delivery on the ground and there is not much funding to support the development of critical operating functions like HR, legal, marketing or IT. Pro-bono support by companies can bridge the gap for these charities. In addition, this can bring them the technical assistance to improve their operations and programme to deliver on their missions more efficiently and effectively.
• Volunteering: Employee volunteering consists of a planned and tracked effort to engage and enable employees to serve their community by allowing them to dedicate some of their working hours to charities.

In conclusion, purpose is not an initiative; it is a way of doing business and committing to values. When it is embedded in the decisions, conversations and behaviours across the organisation, purpose supports the business and engages employees, helping with recruitment and retention of talent, and cultivating a workplace where employees are proud, loyal and satisfied.

Julie Wynne TEP is head of the Sustainable Economy practice at MLL Legal, Switzerland, and Chair of the STEP Philanthropy Advisors SIG.

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