By Phoebe Krueger, vice president and corporate social responsibility manager, Columbia Bank
When I joined Columbia Bank, I inquired about our areas of support and was surprised that we didn’t have a specific list. The best practices I’d learned it the past dictate that aligning a company’s areas of support with its corporate mission are critical in building a cohesive strategy.
But when it was explained to me that employees drive our community efforts because they are most engaged in understanding the unique needs of the communities where they live and work, things started to click. At Columbia Bank, we serve a wide range of communities, from urban centers like Portland to rural communities such as Ontario, OR. We know the assets and challenges of these communities are not the same – who better to help us understand how to be the most effective partner possible than our people?
In further considering an employee-driven community engagement strategy, I also realized it helps companies be more equitable and inclusive in their efforts. Oftentimes, we think of community as a geographic location. While that is meaningful, as individuals we also identify as members of many different kinds of communities. Veterans. Pet owners. Parents. LGBTQ. Vegetarians. Entrepreneurs. The list goes on. Activating employee-driven community support programs allows companies to reach more people and demonstrate their support for the many types of communities their employees are part of.
So how do companies translate this idea into reality? Defining a clear community engagement philosophy to create a North Star for guidance is a solid starting point. Don’t file this philosophy away or keep it a secret; rather, post it on your website and share it with employees, clients, and communities. We developed a philosophy and its last sentence summarizes it best: “Our people are at the core of our community engagement programs, and this creates powerful action toward improving and enhancing the places where they live and work.”
Companies who choose to follow a similar strategy can demonstrate this commitment through a comprehensive approach to community engagement, empowering employees to address the distinctive characteristics of their communities through several programs. We choose to serve our communities through four pillars: volunteerism, employee giving, fundraising, and company giving. Other companies may start with fewer pillars or adapt these to fit their corporate culture and identity. Below are several suggestions of how companies can empower employees through different types of engagement.
Develop a paid volunteer program and encourage employees to actively work with the nonprofits they are passionate about. Strive to activate your employees in ways that are meaningful to them personally. That can mean anything from teaching financial literacy at their neighborhood elementary school to helping an entrepreneur build her first budget to preparing meals for people experiencing hunger.
Employees vote with their dollars on what they care about most through their charitable donations; match all or part of their personal donations to enhance your employees’ impact. Consider an annual employee giving campaign to make giving easy by allowing employees to make one-time or recurring payroll deductions to the nonprofits of their choice.
Embolden employees to collaborate to support both company-wide fundraising campaigns and local campaigns championed by their peers and clients. Further honor your employees’ efforts by keeping donations local to the communities in which they were raised.
Designate all or a portion of your company giving dollars to the local nonprofits where your employees are directly engaged to further support what matters to them. Make giving decisions locally, not behind closed doors at your headquarters. Better yet? Invite employees across your organization to aid in making company giving decisions.
Given the increasingly diverse communities employees live in and are part of, these community engagement programs authentically honor what is important to them. These also improve inclusive community support and equitable practices by allowing all employees access to meaningful community engagement opportunities, regardless of their location or position in your organization. Is this the easiest way to operate community engagement? No. Is it worth the extra effort to serve those whose voices are oftentimes left unheard? Absolutely.
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