It’s Who We Are: How to Form a Philanthropic Arm of Your Organization

Kick off your organization's philanthropy today with CARE's five steps to corporate philanthropy.

Challenging current events have clearly shown us the value of reaching out and helping others. In addition to struggling with the uncertainties associated with the pandemic, many of us have family, friends, and neighbors affected by wildfires, weather-related emergencies, civil unrest, unemployment, or food scarcity.

Hands teamwork high five

We’ve witnessed countless big and small acts of kindness, including playing music outside the windows of shut-in seniors, handing out food and clothing to families displaced by wildfires, and staffing food banks and vaccine distribution sites. Although the pandemic has changed the ways in which we are able to reach out to others safely, the need is greater than ever.

As part of our ongoing commitment to strengthening our communities, Woodruff Sawyer launched CARE (Community, Action, Responsibility, Enhancement) in 2006. This community service arm of our organization supports charitable causes that improve the lives of those in need through monetary contributions and volunteer activities.

As president of CARE, I have had the opportunity to see the impact our program is making both within our communities and within our Woodruff Sawyer team. In an effort to help other companies build their own giving programs, I’d like to share five tips for forming a corporate philanthropy arm.

Forming a Corporate Philanthropy Arm

1. Create a Corporate Leadership Team.

Working both locally through our 16 offices and nationally through company-wide projects, CARE reflects the heart of our employees. We select causes that reflect their interests and passions, and they put in the time, effort, and creativity to make a real difference in their communities.

A 20-member team of volunteers leads our Corporate CARE team. This team handles the strategic planning for national endeavors and offers support and guidance for local efforts. Members of our Corporate CARE team are busy insurance professionals who work 50- to 60-hour weeks, so we ask them to make only a one-year commitment to this volunteer post, but we often see many of our employees volunteer several years in this capacity. We also minimize meeting time with a quarterly schedule.

Woodruff Sawyer's CARE leadership team plans for national endeavors and offers support and guidance for local efforts.

Depending on the size of your organization, look for ways you can link your different offices to work together. For example, our regional offices can tap into corporate for help with marketing, public relations, accounting, and fundraising, so they don’t feel they have to take on a giving project all alone.

2. Align Priorities with your Mission Statement.

Review your company’s mission statement as you decide the goals and objectives of your philanthropic arm. What do you want to accomplish? Where do you want to focus your support? How will those efforts reflect and reveal your overall mission?

For more than 100 years, Woodruff Sawyer has been wholly independent and employee-owned. Our mission is to provide clients with deep expertise, thoughtful counsel, and fierce advocacy. Our CARE initiatives focus on three areas of need: people, environment, and animals.

Our Woodruff Sawyer employees are involved in their communities in so many different ways. They help out in their local schools, churches, food banks, libraries, and arts institutions. They know the needs of the families in their area, and we like to tap into their passions and interests with our CARE program.

3. Build Local Leadership by Asking for Help.

With the corporate team offering planning and support, our local employees are the “boots on the ground” for CARE. Not everyone wants to just write a check, so it’s important to offer different ways for people to share their time and talents.

When looking for leadership, I’ve observed that people will step up to volunteer when they are asked to do so. But you’ve got to ask.

Here are some other tips for building a local team for your philanthropic arm:

  • Ask about local causes that matter to them.
  • Ask about causes that matter to their clients.
  • Find ways to involve their families and friends.
  • Offer choices and time options for how they can participate.

Additionally, I encourage all members of the CARE leadership team––both national and local––to think about who will replace them in that position. Recruiting someone to take on your role the following year serves two important purposes. First, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you can step away after the end of your one-year term with confidence. And, secondly, the person following you will be able to benefit from your experience by working alongside you.

4. Set an Annual Theme.

Selecting an overall theme helps focus and unify your fundraising and volunteer efforts for the entire year. It also helps you to find the charitable organizations you can partner with on projects.

At our end-of-year meeting, our Corporate CARE team chooses an overall theme for the following year. In December 2019, we chose “Gratitude” as our theme for 2020, not knowing at the time how important that topic was to become for all of us during the pandemic.

With Operation Gratitude, we were able to respond to our communities' needs in socially-distant and creative ways, such as a letter-writing campaign to thank caregivers and a paracord bracelet-making project.

This year, we are partnering with Feeding America to spotlight the food scarcity crisis in many of our communities. In pre-COVID days, many of our employees volunteered in food banks and helped stock food warehouses. During the pandemic, we found new ways to help fight hunger.

For example, our Bay Area office raises money for the non-profit SF New Deal with virtual Bingo on St. Patrick’s Day. SF New Deal pays restaurants to make meals for neighbors in need––helping meet basic needs and sustain the local economy at the same time.

5. Make Giving Part of Your Company Culture.

We take on philanthropic endeavors to help others, but the reality is that they help us too. Volunteering can help us gain a new sense of belonging, make new friends, and connect with our communities.

Workplace charitable endeavors align your employees around a common cause. Whether you’re serving at a soup kitchen, building a home for Habitat for Humanity, or attending a live ZOOM charity auction, it helps everyone get to know each other better. And that camaraderie translates into better working relationships.

According to Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Community Involvement Study, 95% of surveyed companies found a positive connection between employee volunteer programs and workplace engagement.

95% of companies find a positive connection between employee volunteer programs and workplace engagement.

When you make philanthropy part of your company culture, you build your reputation within your team and within the community––all while doing good. I consider myself very fortunate to work for a company that demonstrates its value of volunteer time in tangible ways. It’s who we are.

For example, Woodruff Sawyer allows each employee two paid days each year to volunteer and matches their monetary contributions up to a certain level every year. It’s an amazing incentive for all of us to find ways to reach out to others in our communities.

So many people are facing extraordinary challenges today and need some help. When you put together the right leadership team with the right corporate backing, the sky’s the limit of what the charitable arm of your organization can accomplish.



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