Engage Employees by Giving Them a Sense of Purpose

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Engage Employees by Giving Them a Sense of Purpose

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 11:40am

By Sarah Ford

The workforce can be a great launch pad for a company and its employees to work together and make an impact.  But, “what if your business is primarily commercial and not, well, saving the world?”  That’s a question Don Fornes, Founder and CEO at Software Advice, recently addressed in his blog post, “It’s Not Every Day You Get to Save a Five-Year-Old’s Life.”

“I love my company, but it’s not a charity. We’re not curing disease or solving climate change. Personally, my fulfillment comes from the momentum we build as a company by hitting new milestones: hiring a certain number of employees, hitting a revenue goal, expanding to a new office or bringing on new clients. And I take pride in the fact that we’ve created almost 100 jobs through this enterprise,” states Fornes.

Fornes’ sentiments are shared by many of today’s executives who are faced with employees who often feel detached from their jobs, especially Generation Y (a.k.a. Millennials).  To this generation, being engaged means being appreciated at work and feeling like they’re contributing to the greater good.

In just 10 years, Gen Y will comprise the majority of the world’s workforce.  Since it costs between $15,000 to $24,000 to replace a typical Millennial employee, figuring out how to give their work meaning is critical for businesses today and tomorrow.

Provide Sense of Purpose by Giving Back

“One way employees at an organization such as ours [Software Advice] can find purpose is when they know their efforts are funding projects that give back,” says Fornes.

Having worked with organizations such as Coats For Kids, Capital Area Food Bank, HeartGift Austin and Austin Pets Alive, Software Advice offers its employees several opportunities to volunteer and be engaged in supporting charities throughout the year.

Most recently they discovered just how transformative giving back can be, when they rallied together to help save Confidence, a five-year-old girl from Benin City, Nigeria who needed life-saving heart surgery.

Saving Confidence

In 2013, Fornes and his wife learned about the HeartGift Foundation, a charity that brings children from developing countries who suffer from congenital heart defects to the United States, so they can undergo life-saving surgeries that aren’t available in their home country. The children are placed with a host family for the six-week duration of their stay, and are returned home when they have fully recovered.

The Fornes family signed up to host Confidence, who at just two months of age, was diagnosed with Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) and Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)–essentially, two holes in her heart. In Nigeria, children with this condition typically die before age 10. HeartGift Austin, in partnership with Dell Children’s Medical Center, would pay the vast majority of the $266,000 required to transport Confidence and Mary to and from Austin and to perform her surgery. The $25,000 difference was up to Fornes to raise.

Fornes shared his plans with the employees at Software Advice, and was amazed by the reception he received. As a company, the employees at Software Advice ended up working together to raise $28,400: enough to cover the actual out-of-pocket expenses for Confidence's procedure. And the medical staff at Dell Children's Medical Center generously donated their time and effort throughout the process. Fornes’ employees also donated their time, visiting Confidence at the hospital while she recovered.

“The effect the experience had on my family and my employees proved much more powerful than the financial contribution,” says Fornes. “In the end, our experience with Confidence gave all of us more than just a new perspective. It changed the way we look at our daily lives, and made us feel lucky for all the little ways in which we are privileged. But perhaps most importantly, it taught us how transformative it can be to truly help another person. While it was an emotional challenge to see her return home, knowing that we were able to give Confidence the gift of a long life was fulfilling.”

“And now I know how to give my staff a sense of purpose. Even if the work they do day-to-day isn’t saving the world, our employees can see that the revenue their efforts are generating is funding good things that truly help people. No matter how we get there, we’re making other peoples’ lives better through our company’s success. And that feels good.  After all, it’s not every day you get to save a five-year-old girl’s life.”

Employee Engagement Delivers Value to Employers, Employees, and The Causes They Care About

In order to engage employees and give back, your company doesn’t have to go to the extent that Software Advice went to save Confidence.  As Fornes stated, “it’s not every day you get to save a five-year-old girl’s life.”  You can involve employees in volunteer work, pro bono work, a workplace giving program, matching gift opportunities, or a combination of each.  The important thing is that you consider what interests your employees, make it easy, and do it often.  By doing those three things, you’ll deliver value to your employees, the causes they care about, and to your company.

1. Consider What Interests Your Employees

In the case of Software Advice’s employees, volunteering is something that interests them.  So offering a variety of volunteer opportunities throughout the year is a great way for them to give back and be engaged at work.  Plus, volunteer programs provide strong platforms for employee leadership and skills development, and can also be a critical tool for employee recruitment and retention. 

According to Software Advice’s Editorial Coordinator, Chantelle Wallace, "Part of my interest in working for Software Advice was the company’s corporate giving initiatives, and opportunities to give back via volunteering and fundraising with my coworkers.  Volunteering with coworkers is such an effective team-building experience–it lets you see their strengths and sides of them that don't come out in the company's day-to-day tasks."

Perhaps most importantly though, volunteer programs help infuse employees’ work with purpose and meaning.  In an LBG Associates survey about employee volunteer programs, seventy-one percent of employees indicated that they felt more positive about their company as a result of these programs.

2.  Make it Easy

No matter how much employees express interest in the volunteer or workplace giving programs you offer; if participating is too difficult, you’re programs will not be very successful.  The employees from Software Advice have a genuine interest in volunteering, but as their HR and Recruiting Manager, Bethany Perkins, explains, “We organize group volunteer opportunities to make it easier for everyone to get involved.  We've organized coat drives, food drives, and set up an online system for people to donate to Confidence's heart surgery. We try to make it really easy to get involved by taking on all the planning and leg work ourselves. That way, all people have to do is show up on volunteer day or click a link to make a donation.”

3.  Do it Often

Nearly eighty percent of respondents in Snapshot: Trends and Strategies to Engage Employees in Greater Giving (a 2013 report by America’s Charities), indicated they conduct their giving program during a finite period of time, usually in the Fall or during the holidays.  However, a growing number of employers recognize that giving can take place throughout the year. 

Thanks to how much technology has evolved during the past decade, companies can easily provide employees with a variety of giving options throughout the year to meet their diverse interests.  Plus, that same technology has made it easier to report results of the employees’ collective impact.  So for instance, if you hold a workplace giving campaign, employees can get the satisfaction of donating to charities that interest them personally.  And then your company can look at how much money all of your employees donated overall and report what percent of that total money was designated to different causes (i.e. Company XYZ’s employees raised a total of $27,000 with 60% supporting health research and services, 20% helping animals, 15% fighting hunger and poverty, and 5% saving the environment).

Based on employee interests and a company’s own philanthropic goals, companies should develop strategies that leverage campaign-like features, such as kick-off events and strategic communications, and then facilitate a variety of giving opportunities that generate attention and engage employees at different ‘pulse points’ throughout the year.

So go ahead and take pride in company milestones like hiring a certain number of employees, hitting a revenue goal, or creating 100 new jobs, like Software Advice Founder and CEO Don Fornes does. Those are significant accomplishments your company should celebrate.  But also, take Fornes’ lead by taking pride in your employees and consider giving them a sense of purpose in their work.  Workplace giving and employee engagement programs like volunteer events are a meaningful way to accomplish that.  And best of all, they deliver value to you, your employees and the communities where they live and work.



At America’s Charities we specialize in bringing employers together with charities to engage employees in greater giving – whether it’s time, talent or money.   We are experts at helping employers strategize and create employee engagement and workplace giving programs that align with their social responsibility efforts.

Interested in more information about how we can help your company, association or organization? Contact us!  We would love to discuss the best approach for your organization.

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