Employee Engagement - It's Good Business to be GoodStrategic community investment is a key way to involve and engage employees with workplace gratitude in a meaningful way, whether it’s hands-on and on a small-scale, or a significant capital gift designed to benefit an entire neighborhood or city for years to come.
When you involve employees in philanthropic efforts, or set a great example by being a corporate leader in community investment, you’re providing added meaning to employees’ everyday work and building a sense of ownership and pride in the company.
The latest research shows companies struggle to engage today’s workforce. “Only 13 percent of employees around the world are actively engaged at work, and more than twice that number are so disengaged they are likely to spread negativity to others,” according to Gallup poll findings discussed in a March 2014 Forbes article by Josh Bersin. Bersin spearheaded the research for Global Human Capital Trends 2014 and says companies that successfully engage and retain employees don’t rely on flashy perks.

“Best places to work” companies don’t just have ping-pong tables and free lunch, they have a “soul” which makes work exciting and energizing. They invest in great management and leadership. The train and develop people so they can grow. And they define their business in a way that brings meaning and purpose to the organization.”

The Name of the Game
When it comes to major capital investment, naming-rights sponsorships build community visibility and admiration.
One of Target‘s most visible philanthropic efforts is the naming-rights sponsorship of two entertainment facilities in its hometown of Minneapolis: Target Center, a multi-use arena downtown with a capacity of 20,500 that had a “green roof” installed in 2009, and the nearby Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. Target consistently makes Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, ranking in 2014 at #29.
When the ballpark opened in 2008, a Target spokesperson called the company’s naming rights “a nice opportunity to extend our visible support of the area,” according to a MinnPost article.
The good feelings were mutual. The Twins had several criteria for choosing naming rights, and Target fit the bill. Target is 1) a Minnesota-based company, 2) known for its “civic activation” and philanthropy, and 3) consistent with the Twins’ marketing image of being “family focused.”
Target further augments its positive image in the community by engaging employees in volunteering. These are not one-off efforts, but part of a sustained partnership with local initiatives such as Second Harvest Heartland. The charity recognized Target this year as one of its most involved and committed member companies.
Philanthropy As Community Motivation

Corporate philanthropy, no matter how strategic it is in helping a company reach financial and marketing goals, is most effective when it has lasting heart and passion behind it that can motivate others. Philanthropy, at its best, should be infectious and inspiring.
The Goodman brothers of Madison, Wisconsin, embodied this philosophy of charitable giving throughout their long lives as the founders and owners of a successful jewelry store in the city.
Robert Goodman was heralded as a “beloved Madison philanthropist” at his death in 2010 at the age of 90.
He and his brother Irwin, who died less than a year earlier at the age of 94, “lived frugally so they could give millions of dollars to charitable causes in Madison, where their generosity encompassed the highly visible — a municipal swimming pool, a community center, a university softball field — and the easily overlooked but highly valued: $20,000 for swimming lessons for the poor, $2,000 for the Capital City Band concerts, $1,000 for a golf outing for disabled students,” wrote local columnist George Hesselberg.
The Goodman brothers’ early philanthropic efforts were anonymous, but they later agreed to have their name attached when they realized “that letting their name be used was very motivating for other people,” an adviser said. One of these lasting, named contributions is the Goodman Pool on the city’s south side. Opened in 2006, it is Madison’s first and only public swimming pool.
Crowdfunding Real Engagement, Not “Voluntold” Engagement
One of the biggest success stories of employee engagement through philanthropy comes out of Warner Bros.’s Impact program. Employees who choose to participate in the giving program are involved at every step. Impact boasts a participation rate of 31 percent, which is 12 percent higher than the corporate average.
This level of participation “doesn’t come from a bunch of employees being ‘voluntold’,” writes Forbes contributor Ryan Scott in the article, “Lights, Camera, Impact: When Employees Run the Community Giving Show.”
“Warner Bros. doesn’t demand participation from employees. Indeed, the company’s giving program didn’t come out of a desire at the C-suite for strategic philanthropy; rather, it grew out of employee demand for a civic engagement outlet,” Scott writes.
Here’s how Impact works: Warner Bros. invites each employee to submit one organization for the company to support over a two-year cycle. These submissions are sifted down to 24 nonprofit candidates, and then employees vote on the final 12. Eligible organizations earn a two-year partnership with the company and are invited to collaborate with employees on events and fundraisers. Charity partners have included the Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and local animal welfare organizations.
“Employees are the face of the company,” Lisa Rawlins, senior VP of public affairs at Warner Bros., told Variety earlier this year. “We think it’s important to give them an opportunity to select organizations they’re passionate about, and drive this company’s community outreach.”
Impact is strategic and not “checkbook philanthropy,” Rawlins says. It also unites employees around a good cause, or as Variety writer Allegra Tepper puts it, the program “brings WB employees together around something other than the water cooler.”
Want to read more on the intersection of workplace gratitude and charitable giving? Check out our recent post “How Does A Company Say Thank You?” for tips on building an engaged workforce through community outreach.
For more on building a culture of appreciation in your workplace, download our FREE Guide to Workplace Gratitude. Click the image below and start sharing your gratitude today!
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