Certain work traditions are well-established as the holidays approach: the office party, the ugly sweater contest, perhaps a co-worker who doubles as a Secret Santa. More and more, companies are adding another custom to their list: philanthropy.
“Employees want to have the opportunity to not only work for a company that gives back but to have the opportunity themselves to give back,” said JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of the Central Carolina Community Foundation. “We’re seeing a lot of very creative uses of resources from the companies in our community.”
The holidays are a busy season for charitable giving, as would-be philanthropists on a large or small scale look for groups or projects to support, and for Turnquist’s organization, a nonprofit that links the charitable-minded with areas of need in the Midlands community. Registration for nonprofits wanting to participate in the annual Midlands Gives fundraising day is ongoing until Dec. 19, and the CCCF is occupied with both reaching out to interested organizations and working with those already signed up.
“We work closely with the nonprofits to walk them through what a giving day looks like and help them decide if it’s the right thing for them to do,” Turnquist said. “This is an inclusive program. You don’t have to be a large organization with a large paid staff and a building. You do need to be an organization that is at least 1 year old and that has the capacity to do this, because we don’t want to overwhelm a small staff with a giving day.”
Midlands Gives, which will take place May 1 is in its fifth year. The 24-hour giving challenge hosted by CCCF benefits nonprofits in 11 counties: Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland, Saluda and Sumter.
Last year, the drive raised more than $1.67 million for 335 nonprofits. A record 13,765 donations came from individuals, and more than 60% of the donations were from first-time givers, Turnquist said.
“Philanthropy is an inclusive event. It’s not restricted to the Bill Gates and the Oprah Winfreys of the world,” Turnquist said. “What we’re trying to do is use philanthropy as a shared value to bring our community together, because together we can do more good.”
While a record number of individuals donated in 2017, Turnquist said companies provide a significant amount of support as well.
“Corporations are making a difference in our community,” she said, pointing to the CCCF’s Corporate Philanthropy Champions program, which has grown from two companies to more than 25 contributing time and money to Midlands Gives. “They’re large and small organizations. Many of these corporations participate in the corporate philanthropy program because they know that it’s important for their employees to know that the company that they work for is investing in the community.”
Several Midlands companies weave philanthropy into their culture, believing that employees benefit from knowing a company puts its money where its values are.
“We actually make it part of our strategic plan,” said Joe Johnson, CEO of BlueCross BlueShield subsidiary Palmetto GBA, whose company recognizes employees’ philanthropic endeavors at an awards banquet. “The prize for our community giving team was to present money to their charity of choice.”
Local restaurant group Lizard’s Thicket is known for its charitable giving.
“We place donation boxes at the registers for eight weeks,” said Sara Krisnow, community relations manager. “Then we choose six charities that affected the families of our employees. Each gets about $1,500.”
Employees feel good about giving, and the community as a whole experiences a morale boost, Turnquist believes.
“It infuses the community with a sense of pride,” she said. “People like to be a part of a larger initiative. People want to live in a welcoming community. People want to live in a community that gives back.”
The CCCF is involved in several other charitable initiatives, including Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited, a museum exhibit that showcases African-American giving traditions and is making its South Carolina debut in Columbia in February 2018. The exhibit, based on a tutorial book, Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African-American Philanthropists by Valaida Fullwood, highlights the history of diversity in giving and is interactive, with iPad kiosks and digital apps.
Anita Garrett, founder of Women Engaged, a local giving circle, worked with CCCF and the Richland Library to bring the exhibition to town.
“We want to increase awareness of the generous and various ways that African Americans give, and celebrate local stories of philanthropy,” Turnquist said. “Soul of Philanthropy allows us to tell the often not-told story African-American philanthropy and to change the narrative of who is a philanthropist? What does a philanthropist look like?”
Philanthropy also doesn’t have to involve money, Turnquist said.
“For smaller companies or families that may not have the means to make a financial gift or contribution at this time of the year, one of the interesting concepts that we’re seeing more and more with millennials or younger employees who want to roll up their sleeves get involved beyond simply writing a check is to give volunteer hours to an organization,” she said. “Many of our Corporate Philanthropy Champions provide and allow time during a business day for their employees to volunteer. Many of the companies that we work with also provide brain power resource, if you will. It’s not simply packing food at Harvest Hope — which is critical — but it’s also using the intellectual strength and resources of a company to help an organization.”
A company’s human resources department might help a nonprofit write an employee manual, a CFO could help with budgeting or a marketing team might design a campaign logo, Turnquist said.
“Those are very helpful, creative gifts that can tap into a giving spirit of an individual and an organization,” she said.
Turnquist has a few tips for companies, employees and individuals who want to contribute to a charity this holiday season.
“What’s key not only for employees but also for employees and their families is to think ahead,” she said. “Think about the nonprofit organizations that meet their interest and also fit into their budget. Where can a family or a group of employees have the greatest impact, and what will bring them the greatest joy, so folks aren’t scrambling on Dec. 15 to figure out what they can do for end-of-year giving.”
Once would-be donors select a charity, Turnquist said, they should do their research — making sure the charity is reputable — and save their receipts.
A final tip: “We always recommend that families and companies give locally whenever they can,” she said.
Those wanting to give don’t have to wait until Midlands Gives in May to do so. Giving Tuesday is a national event the Tuesday after Thanksgiving that nonprofit advocate Together SC is helping to promote statewide.
“Not every region has a Midlands Gives,” Turnquist said. “It’s another opportunity for nonprofits to reach donors they may not have in the past.
“We’re trying to bring not only our region together in May but our state together in November.”
Columbia Regional Business Report associate publisher Licia Jackson contributed to this article, which first appeared in the Nov. 6 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report.