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Sep 4, 201812:50 PMOpen Mic

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ROI for charitable giving happens by connecting to the cause

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When it comes to corporate donations, conventional wisdom advises businesses to focus charitable giving on a few main causes that match your organizational brand and/or mission for maximum impact.

As the bank I lead celebrates our 110-year anniversary throughout 2018, we threw conventional wisdom out the window — and have been all the better for it.

Instead of worrying about getting the most out of our donations, we decided to focus on giving.

Celebrating through giving

We were looking for a way to celebrate the 110th anniversary of State Bank of Cross Plains. We chose to let each of our bank employees pick a charity or organization to donate $110. No strings. No guidance. Here’s why:

  • $110 to represent 110 years;
  • As an independent community bank whose mission is to strengthen the communities where we live and work, we felt our celebration needed to tie back to those communities somehow; and
  • State Bank of Cross Plains is built on individual relationships.

Now that we’re well into the year of celebrating through giving and nearly all employees have distributed their donations, I think it’s safe to conclude that the effort has been a resounding success thus far! Nearly 200 employees have donated to 93 different organizations. 

True impact: Lessons from our experience

I believe the real lesson here is to make giving personal. True impact comes from making connections and strengthening relationships.

How can your company get the most from its charitable giving efforts? Consider these tips:

  • Engage your employees. As a community bank, our employees and the relationships they develop are really what makes us successful. By giving them free reign to support any charity or nonprofit organization they wanted, they got excited about the opportunity to strengthen those connections. I’m so proud that our bank was able to affect so many different families in so many different ways. In this aspect, our impact was huge.
  • Give without expectations. This is the most basic rule of gift giving! It’s not a gift if you expect something in return — that’s a transaction. So much in business is about your return on investment, but I encourage you to give out of joy. The goodwill you spread will only make the world you live and work in a better, stronger, and healthier place.
  • A little goes a long way. I’m not trying to diminish the impact on the greater good from a large capital donation to add a pediatric cancer wing to the hospital or from providing the seed money to bring a performing arts center to your community, but not every company has the financial strength to make that happen. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. I would argue that our small $110 donations made by 190 individual employees made our communities stronger in their own way by helping youth sports, environmental clean-up, a Habitat for Humanity build, schools, food pantries, cancer research and patient comfort, raising funds for family pets and family friends going through tough times, and enabling our bank family to pay forward our success to those who could use a boost on their own paths to success. The feedback we got from the organizations we supported was enlightening and inspiring.
  • Provide the donation in person. One of the rules was that employees should physically hand the donation to the recipient. Our goal was two-fold: we wanted to make an ongoing connection with the community organization, and we wanted the employee to feel the intrinsic benefits of offering support to instill a passion for donating and volunteering for life. It would have been much faster and easier for our accounts payable department to make all donations online with the click of a mouse. We wanted this to be an experience, a true celebration.
  • Document and share your experience. This one might sound self-serving to the cynics in the crowd, but I assure you we shared photos and information about each donation in an effort to publicize the causes we care about. These small organizations were able to benefit from not only the money, but also from the exposure to a whole new — often larger — audience by letting others see someone they thought were valuable and worthy of support.
  • Include volunteerism in your charitable plan. While we made a financial gift the primary focus of our anniversary celebration, we also encouraged employees to expand their relationship with the organizations they chose to financially support. Our bank family logged more than 500 hours of volunteer time so far this year as a direct result of this encouragement to connect.

(Continued)

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