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Chief employee experience officer at Meridian, Canada’s third largest credit union

Today is Giving Tuesday, a growing global social movement that sees charities, companies and individuals rally for their favourite causes. In Canada alone, more than 300 firms are participating this year. It’s an important initiative that also highlights a bigger challenge: How can companies and employees support community impact year-round?

People want to work for companies that offer a chance to give back, which is especially true for millennials. In a recent Deloitte survey, 80 per cent of millennials say companies have an obligation to improve issues that may be unrelated to their business; 60 per cent joined their employer because of its sense of purpose.

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Quite simply, corporations with a clearly defined purpose have employees who are more engaged and willing to stay. There’s a lot to be gained by both companies and employees when they get it right.

Creating strong programs for employees to give is an investment. Causes and communities profit. So does the company. It’s a growth strategy, fueled by employees who want to part of something bigger.

A study by Burson-Marsteller and Switzerland’s IMD Business School revealed that a strong corporate purpose, beyond profit, can affect financial performance by up to 17 per cent.

Research from the EY Beacon Institute and Harvard Business School shows that companies that lead with purpose are more likely to be profitable. Over a three-year period, 85 per cent of purpose-led companies showed revenue growth. In contrast, 42 per cent of companies that lacked a clearly understood purpose showed a drop in revenue.

These studies underscore the importance of inspiring employees with opportunities that are meaningful to them and their company, and also to the community around them.

So how do you foster that sense of purpose?

Here’s a recipe for success that benefits both companies and employees.

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Make it matter

Community engagement programs are more successful when you take a bottom-up approach. That means surveying employees to see what’s important to them.

Why not support every charitable cause that matters to your employees?

Organizations typically pick a charitable cause or partner to help drive brand benefits and encourage staff to get involved. Matching and volunteering programs might be limited to those causes. Opening up programs can have a huge impact on engagement. According to Benevity (a leader in employee giving solutions), people are five times more likely to participate in companies that enable employees to support the causes they care about.

Make it accessible

Companies often have minimum volunteering or donation requirements. That can dissuade employees from participating. One strategy is to match as low as $1 in donations or a few minutes of volunteer time. Or match employee fundraising that includes money donated by non-employees. Employees are looking for ways to get their feet wet in the charitable space and making it easy means it is more likely they are transformed into regular donors and volunteers.

Go digital

Make employee giving programs easy to use. When they’re online, it takes just a few clicks to donate, request a donation match, log volunteer hours, unlock dollars for causes, and share donation and volunteering opportunities for all to see. Creating an online community helps companies track use and employee interests, and allows them to make continuous improvements that boost employee engagement.

Encourage employee innovation

People will surprise you in the creative ways they use your program. Don’t get caught in your own red tape. For example, a number of staff asked if we’d match the value of a canned-goods donation to a food bank, instead of straight dollars. Had we stuck to the rule book, we would’ve risked disengaging some of our most spirited employees.

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Listen when employees approach you with ideas. After all, that prioritizes the ultimate goal of giving and volunteering programs – to promote engagement.

At Meridian, we’ve seen the benefit of all these approaches. Forty-two per cent of our workers participate in our employee giving program, well above the industry average. We see staff that finds more meaning and happiness at work. Community involvement is also a way to develop leadership and other skills, like organizing events and sitting on boards or committees. That serves the individuals and the company well.

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