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19th October 2016.

To Give or Not to Give, that is the question...

Why your business should be giving back to the community by Tony Collard, Sales Director at Ethos.

I met up for lunch last week with an old acquaintance. I’ve known him for more than twenty years and let’s just say he can be rather cantankerous at the best of times. But even I was lost for words when over coffee he began railing against the fundraising emails he gets from colleagues.

According to his particular logic, such solicitations ought to be kept out of hours and off company email. Employees, he frothed, are there to make money for the company – not various philanthropic organisations. If charitable giving has to be entertained at work, it should be limited to charities the company officially selects – not ones the employees champion.  

Now, I can see where he’s coming from. And let me say, it’s a cold, grey and lonely place. At Ethos, charitable giving is part of the fabric of who we are as a company – and who we are as individuals. As in every organisation, the culture is set from the top. Every year, we select a charity to support as a team. Our staff have taken that commitment by senior management and run with it – not only getting involved in our official company fundraising initiatives, but also bringing their own, often dearly-held charities to each other’s attention.

As I pointed out to my old chum, what he failed to grasp is that supporting charitable giving as a company isn’t actually all that altruistic. The benefits our company reaps from giving back to the community far outweighs the time employees are focused on sponsorship emails and activities.

Other companies spend thousands sending their employees off to learn yoghurt-weaving and “mindfulness” in the Brecon Beacons - all in the hope of “team building”. Having a charitable culture at work means you don’t need to pay external consultants to build your team. That’s because you can count on the team to nominate itself to run Tough Mudder – a 12-mile assault course of mud, barbed wire and fire. And nothing bonds a team like having to push each other’s backsides over a twenty-foot mud-covered wall in driving rain, let me tell you.

It goes without saying that corporate giving also brings with it fantastic benefits to the company – often simply though the networking opportunities it creates. We are proud to sponsor a table every year at The Retail Trust’s ball – a charity devoted to improving the lives of current and former retail employees. At these events, you never know who you are going to sit next to or meet at the bar. Business is fundamentally about human relationships and a common cause can go a long way in quickly establishing a rapport and opening up opportunities to work together.

But let’s for the sake of argument concede that charitable giving in the office is somewhat of a distraction for employees. It can join the list alongside Monday morning conversation about who did what at the weekend, and Friday afternoon conversations about who’s doing what at the weekend. Sadly, research continues to confirm that we humans have limited attention spans, and require not-infrequent breaks from staring at screens if we’re to maintain our productivity – and our sanity.

Banning charity fundraising at work seems to me not only draconian but also deeply damaging to the relationship between management and staff. What better way to send the message that you don’t care about who your employees are or what motivates them? The charities people support speak volumes about who they are, the experiences they’ve had, the people they’ve lost, the tremendous feats they’re capable of to raise money. The best most resilient teams are the ones who really know each other and who support each other when the going gets rough. Sharing their charities with each other fosters these bonds like nothing else.

There will, of course, always be individuals in your team who either don’t want to give or who simply don’t have the money to give. However, these days any peer pressure to give is lifted because digital fundraising platforms all allow people to give anonymously. Donation today, being online, is much more subtle than the old A4 sponsorship forms of old, passed around the office or class room for everyone to see who donated what.  

Over the dregs of the coffee, my friend and I ended up reminiscing about our school days, sponsored walks, sneaking off in the middle to go to the tuck shop. Misty eyed with school boy memories of raising money, he didn’t seem quite so cantankerous so I took the opportunity to challenge him to join me on next year’s Tough Mudder. After all, the best way to engage with charity is to get off your chair, roll your sleeves up and get involved. He’s gamely accepted so the sponsorship email at his office will live another day. Whether I’ll survive another Tough Mudder is however not so certain – especially if I have to shove him over that twenty-foot wall…

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