Give a little, get a lot: CSR and engagement

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Corporate charitable efforts have changed over the years, from presenting over-sized cheques to getting employees actively involved in projects. It’s an effective way to engage employees and improve company culture, as one national PR firm has found.

Edelman Canada completed its fifth annual company-wide Little Give initiative last week, where teams across the country spend 48 hours and $2500 seed money to help local charitable groups solve problems.

“What we’ve heard from our employees is that they want to be doing meaningful work and that they feel a personal responsibility,” Edelman Toronto general manager Lisa Kimmel said. “They have an expectation of us to be a good corporate citizen. They were looking for us to create something that they could participate in actively beyond just giving a donation, where they could actually make a meaningful difference.”

The initiative started in Vancouver in 2008 when the office was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Instead of a cocktail party the general managers decided to do something meaningful for employees and the local community. Oprah Winfrey had just done her Big Give, but lacking Winfrey’s deep pockets the company’s Little Give was born. The following year it was extended across the country as Edelman Canada’s national corporate social responsibility program.

“What’s nice about our program is that each of our offices are different, so we created a model that is flexible enough that each of the offices could figure out how they wanted to execute the program to meet the local needs of each office,” Kimmel said.

“In our office we have 100 employees participating this year and nine charitable organizations that we’re partnering with. Our Montreal office has found it’s more effective to identify one local charitable organization and the whole office works on it,” she added.

The program also helps the company be strategic about its pro bono efforts, ensuring that they are making the most of their skills and time. One of the advantages of the program was that it was skill-based work, Kimmel said. Rather than picking up garbage or planting trees, the teams were able to use their own skills to achieve more.

“This was my first time participating in the Little Give, and it was great to see the entire office so engaged in the event,” account executive Alexa Macdonald said. “We had the opportunity to work with people from different practices and apply our professional skills to support our community.”

Mixing the teams to give people from different practices the opportunity to work together helps build relationships and friendships across the Toronto office and is a big part of the unified culture Kimmel is determined to maintain.

The on-going employee engagement and positive cultural effects of the Little Give makes the CSR initiative a big win for the employer.

“From employee satisfaction surveys and just anecdotally, what people consistently say at Edelman Canada is that The Little Give is one of the best examples that demonstrates that we’re a great culture and a great community to work for,” Kimmel said.

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