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Corporate Giving

How companies use giving to create social and business benefits

Millennials and other employees connect to community through charitable work

A goalie sculpture for Diamond Schmitt Architects’s Canstruction, a competition open to engineers, students, designers and architects to see who can build the best sculpture out of cans of food.

Aside from simply donating to charitable causes, companies find that getting creative about encouraging employee involvement has business advantages, too.

According to a 2016 millennial employment engagement online survey of 1,020 U.S. employees conducted by Cone Communications, 76 per cent of millennials consider a company's social and environmental commitments when choosing where to work, while 64 per cent will refuse a position from a company lacking in a strong corporate social responsibility practice.

Related: 'I gave at the office' goes high-tech

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Also read: Canoe museum and other small charities paddle harder for donations

Beyond the traditional corporate charitable activities, though, companies should look at ways of using their employees' skills to help non-profit organizations innovate and bring the fastest and biggest level of change at the lowest cost, says one expert in this area.

United Way Toronto and York Region president and CEO Daniele Zanotti: Volunteerism drives employee engagement, which is good for corporations in more ways than one – ‘It connects their people to professional development opportunities, it gives them a chance to connect to a bigger network, sometimes outside of their workplace, and it gives them meaningful opportunities in the community.’

That is the opinion of Paul Klein, founder and chief executive officer of Impakt Corp., a Toronto-based consultancy that helps corporations and non-profits benefit from social change. Mr. Klein has been vocal about the need for corporations to move away from only donating to registered charitable organizations and should instead target its funding of social change toward the most promising ventures.

"[It's] not just doing all the team-building activities and events and so on, the walks, the runs and everything," he says. "It is harnessing the professional skills and abilities of employees to help these non-profit and [their] partners improve their capacity and ability to make change."

As an example, Mr. Klein talks about the potential for a logistics expert, such as FedEx, to help an organization such as a food bank to improve the efficiency of moving food donations from point to point. He suggests there is an emerging discipline in the field of data philanthropy, using the power of big data to improve social change.

A shark scupture for Diamond Schmitt‘s Canstruction event.

"So if your company could add people who know about this, that would be a different and I would suggest ultimately more meaningful form of employee engagement," he says.

Fostering employee participation is an important part of any corporate strategy to connect to communities and promote giving for the greater good.

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To that end, United Way Toronto and York Region, which works with 800 workplaces in running United Way campaigns, has announced a goal to engage one million people by 2025 in fighting local poverty. Ultimately, says United Way Toronto and York Region president and CEO Daniele Zanotti, it's that volunteerism that drives employee engagement, and that is good for corporations in more ways than one.

"It connects their people to professional development opportunities, it gives them a chance to connect to a bigger network, sometimes outside of their workplace, and it gives them meaningful opportunities in the community," he says.

Canadian companies have different ways of encouraging charitable participation by employees, often using their strengths, such as partnerships or specific skills.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, for example, holds the CIBC Run for the Cure, an annual event held in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society. The run, which started with 1,500 people at Toronto's High Park in 1992, has grown to nearly 100,000 participants nationally and raises about $17-million annually.

Josue Estrada, senior vice-president marketing and industry solutions at Salesforce: the company has seen a spike in pro bono volunteering hours from its employees, using their software skills to help non-profits implement various technologies.

The bank also holds its annual Miracle Day, a one-day fundraiser in which its capital markets team and Wood Gundy advisors donate their fees and commissions for children's charities. The event raised $5.5-million last year, part of the $70-million that CIBC raised globally, with the bank also offering employees the ability to donate at any time of the year, through payroll donations, or via credit card.

"One of the programs we have is our employees ambassador program," says Allison Mudge, CIBC's vice-president of public affairs. "So we'll donate up to $500 to a charity that our employees are personally involved with and giving time to, just as a way of supporting people in the communities."

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Other companies provide similar opportunities. At Labatt Breweries of Canada, for example, the company will match donations from Labatt employees or retirees to registered Canadian charities and non-profits up to $2,000 a year.

Corporate donation matching also happens at Diamond Schmitt Architects, which has offices in Toronto, Vancouver and New York. The office in Toronto has a team of cyclists riding in the annual Manulife Ride for Heart, an event put on by the Heart and Stroke Foundation in which about 20,000 people run, walk or ride on expressways in Canada's largest city.

In nine years of taking part, with the office matching the funds raised, Diamond Schmitt's employees at the Toronto office have raised just under $200,000. While the money raised is going to a worthwhile cause, employees also get additional benefits, the company believes.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce employees are involved in a variety of community initiatives, such as fundraising for cancer research and children’s charities. Here, they march in the Calgary Stampede parade.

"I would say that people do this because they want to and it's not about the money," says Peggy Theodore, one of the firm's principals. "I think people really enjoy working with each other on other things other than their day-to-day projects."

As staff at an architectural company, Diamond Schmitt employees are also keen to bring their design skills to bear in the service of philanthropy.

They do that each year by taking part in Canstruction, a competition open to engineers, students, designers and architects to see who can build the best sculpture out of cans of food. After the judging, the 50,000 pounds of food that make up the structures is donated to the Daily Bread Food Bank.

They also take part in Habitat for Humanity, where employees spend a weekend building a house for low-income families.

"We spend a lot of time drawing and making models, but not always swinging a hammer, so this is an opportunity for people to actually be physical about putting a built project together," Ms. Theodore says.

At Salesforce, corporate giving was part of founder Marc Benioff's philosophy when he started the U.S. cloud computing company almost 20 years ago. As a result, the company provides all employees with up to seven paid days off to volunteer with local charities.

He also started with his Pledge 1%, in which Salesforce committed 1 per cent of its time, 1 per cent of its product, and 1 per cent of its financial resources to organizations doing good in the world.

An octopus scupture for Diamond Schmitt‘s Canstruction event.

"He always jokes that it was easy because [it was] 1 per cent of the profit and equity, [but] they didn't have any profit or equity at the time," says Josue Estrada, senior vice-president marketing and industry solutions at "That evolved over time and [now] it's really significant."

Mr. Estrada, who is based in San Francisco, says that Salesforce has seen a huge spike in pro bono volunteering hours from its employees, using their software skills to help non-profits implement various technologies. In addition, with his team, he says Salesforce runs an Adopt a School program through its employee engagement program, designed to help connect with students' needs.

As well, Mr. Estrada says that Saleforce's giving model is one of the principal reasons he joined the company, and he believes it will have a continuing effect on the company's success.

"We believe that the new generation of employees and professionals, they really want to make a difference in the world," he says. "It's not going to be enough only to do well financially, your normal metrics in a for-profit organization, but in the way that you provide feedback and that employee experience."

Editor’s note: The CIBC Run for the Cure is held in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, not the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, as was written in a previous version of this article. This is the corrected version.
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