In Israel and around the world, in recent years there has been heightened recognition that commercial and other organizations must demonstrate a sense of social responsibility in the host community. Today many companies realize this approach helps them in various ways, including managing their workers better. We discussed the issue with Ahuva Yanai, director of Matan – Your Way to Give, an organization that helps companies professionally manage social projects in collaboration with their employees.
Today commercial organizations understand that generating capital through financial activities is not enough, but that a portion of earnings should be funneled toward the community that made these earnings possible. Prosperity and openness have contributed to a communications-rich environment brimming with sophisticated consumers and an opinionated public on one hand, while also contributing to cutbacks in government welfare, which have weakened large and growing segments of the population to the point of hunger and despair, on the other hand.
Initially companies followed this approach to avoid criticism of putting profits first, even at the expense of their surroundings or their employees. Later many companies began to realize that working for the community brings them direct benefits. Their reputation improved, customers were more willing to buy their products and the quality of management improved.
Studies show recruiting workers is easier when the organization shows decency toward its surroundings. Their satisfaction increases, making it easier to retain them at the organization. This is an important advantage because employee retention is becoming harder and harder in the world of modern employment, which has undergone a change in thinking – instead of permanence today people tend to sanctify mobility from one organization to the next.
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What are the main types of activity the companies engage in to
make a contribution to the community?
Ahuva Yanai: There are companies that just make a financial contribution to charity associations and organizations that work to assist the weaker elements of the community. On the other hand there are a significant number of companies that create direct contact with these sectors and initiate special campaigns designed to improve the situation of the needy. These companies encourage their employees to volunteer and take part in activities, and are even prepared to pay its share, even though it’s carried out away from the workplace and sometimes during working hours. The fundamental assumption of the commercial companies is that the opportunity to be on the side of those who give to others can reinforce the employees’ sense of belonging to the company and an appreciation for the company’s enterprises. And if the project is done as a group it can even generate an atmosphere of unity and cooperation among the employees and reduce the chances of the employee feeling estrangement, both toward the company and the department.
Businesses see another achievement in their social welfare activities: boosting the company’s image by casting it as a humane organization in the eyes of the general public and its client pool. It’s easier for an organization with a good image to recruit quality workers, retain them and bring them to identify with the organization’s goals, strengthen their feeling of belonging and boost their motivation for outstanding performance. How do you accomplish this?
One of the dilemmas encountered by organizations that want to do something for the sake of the community is the lack of knowledge of how to act professionally in this area. In recent years various organizations have formed to help them. Some offer consulting services for a fee, while others provide these services on a volunteer basis. The most prominent among Israeli assistance organizations, especially when it comes to involving employees, is Matan – Your Way to Give. On one hand we help organizations interesting in acting for the sake of the community and provide them various tools, and on the other hand we create a bond with the organizations in need of aid and support, forging the initial ties.
Involvement with the community takes many forms based on the organization’s needs, the workers’ preferences, the geographic location, the management’s attitude, etc. In general experience has taught us there are two main ways for employees to contribute: through monetary donations and through volunteer work in the field.
Who does fundraising among the employees? How does it work in practice?
Managing the employees’ monetary donations is a delicate, professional task that demands judiciousness. It includes elements of communications and operations: informational campaigns are conducted within the organization, along with fundraising and transferring the funds to the recipient organizations in an orderly, supervised manner.
At large organizations the process is as follows: after company management approves the fundraising campaign it gives workers a chance to lead it. The aim is to create a core of workers – the life and soul of the campaign – to help raise money among the rest of the staff. At Bank Hapoalim, for instance, last year 350 employees worked on the campaign. This group, which received the support of the board of directors as well as guidance and assistance from Matan, got half of all employees to donate money.
Does every employee contribute? How obligated does the employee feel?
Everything is done voluntarily. Every employee who leads a campaign does so his own way and every employee who makes a donation decides where the money should go. He can choose a specific goal – as long as the recipient organization meets the accepted legal standards – or he can direct the money to a company fund and a special employee committee determines where the money will go. The size of the donation also varies based on the employee’s wishes. Employees can also donate the value of their vacation days.
Every contribution receives an expression of appreciation in kind. Every donator gets a thank-you letter from the Matan management. The worker also sees how his small contribution promoted a large project.
Does the company contribute, too, or is organizing the fundraising campaign among the employees enough?
Generally the employer also takes part in donating, in most cases with matching funds. Other guidelines vary from one organization to the next. Some donate the money to the organization the worker donated to, while others donate to a similar charity. Some companies set a ceiling on the matching funds, and there are other examples as well.
One of the claims heard in the business sector is that the only genuine contribution is one that includes actual volunteer work. According to this approach monetary contributions are essentially to clear their conscience.
I’m aware of this approach and I disagree. The truth is that monetary contributions are very important and volunteer work is very important, as long as they are done to create added value. For many employees it’s hard for them to contribute time. In many cases they have families to take care of and they have a lot of things to get done. Still, they want to contribute to the community and therefore they do so by making a monetary contribution, even a modest one. Nevertheless, volunteer work by company employees is on the rise.
Is volunteer work done on the employee’s time or on company time?
Sometimes it’s done on company time and sometimes it’s done partly on the employee’s time. One common model is volunteering on peak days. On days like this a large group of employees may lend a hand to execute a substantial change at an institution in need of support and assistance, such as an elderly home or youth club. On such days they can carry out a range of activities, from tutoring young students visiting the club to painting and renovating a community center. Another volunteer framework is adopting an institute for a certain length of time. This transforms the company employees into friends of the institute they’ve adopting, both financially and through volunteer work. They participate in regular events related to the institute and form emotional, interpersonal relations with those in need of assistance.
Who decides which organization receives the volunteer assistance?
Sometimes the urge to contribute sprouts from the bottom up, so the organization doesn’t have to force the initiative, and sometimes the organization is the one that invites the employees to join. Volunteer work succeeds when there is substantial willingness among the employees and the company offers assistance, turning it into a genuine volunteer effort that empowers the workers and the community, and of course the business, too, as part of its social responsibility.
The workers enjoy not only the emotional aspects, but also derive practical benefits. For instance, at one high-tech company whose employees reached out to help children with their schoolwork, the volunteers received training in homework tutoring that they’ll be able to use with their own children at home. Another example – the workers at a large communications company, in cooperation with non-profit organization Yedid, wanted to empower people from the lower classes, so they help families manage their family budget. The employees themselves received training that invariably helps them as well. As a rule we found that employees who receive this kind of support from their employer show greater respect toward the company and identify with its goals.
Are volunteer activities done more as a project on the department level or as a company-wide project?
They’re done in a variety of ways. Volunteer work can be divided into three categories: individual work, department-wide activity and nationwide projects.
Individual work entails volunteer work employees do in their free time based on their own preferences: assistance distributing food to the needy, helping lone soldiers [IDF soldiers who have no family in Israel], volunteering at hospitals or volunteering for Magen David Adom. The company has no direct involvement in this, but some managements acknowledge and extol it. For example, one bank holds an annual event in every division to honor outstanding employees, including the “Volunteer of the Year.” All told some 15 outstanding volunteers receive special recognition during a ceremony and even receive a monetary prize given to the organization where they volunteer (or to another organization of their choice). One communications company gives the Outstanding Volunteer award to eight employees recommended for the award by their colleagues. The award includes an NIS 3,000 [$850] donation to any of the organizations at which the volunteers work.
Department-wide activity takes into account the fact that this enterprise helps bond the staff.
Definitely. The company also realizes the benefit this type of activity yields. Therefore the primary company activity for the community is done as a group, with small teams or entire company units working together to help with broad projects. Sometimes it was initiated by a group of employees and the company decides to join in. Sometimes it’s a company-sponsored initiative that the employees want to take part in. The employee’s family members have also been known to join the project, creating unity. For example, Bank Hapoalim encourages its workers to volunteer as a group with staff members from their branch and department, with our assistance and in cooperation with other organizations assisting the community. The bank covers the cost of purchasing food for the needy and branch workers distribute it in their area.
What do the nationwide projects entail?
organizations that present making a contribution to the community as part of their managing strategy tend to initial nationwide projects as well, sometimes even winning media commendation and identifying the company with the work done in a certain field. Naturally projects at this level reflect the worldview of the board or the company owners.
Again I’ll cite an example from Bank Hapoalim, which started the Tikra – Tatzliach [Read – Succeed] program, which, as the bank executives put it, is designed “to raise the level of public awareness of reading as a central value in shaping character and increasing the chances of success among Israeli children.” The project, with the support of the Education Ministry, included a public information campaign, an employee drive at branches to collect books for elementary school libraries, reading hours where students would meet with top children’s books writers, etc.