Stop Giving Back // Pay It Forward
Businesses understand the importance of helping others; they give back to the community because it plays an integral role in making their company successful; they want to do something for others because it is the right thing to do; they have worked to create a culture of giving within their organization. However, giving back may not be enough anymore. Some companies are discovering the rewards of aggressively paying it forward.
Yes. There is a difference between the two. When we give back, we are doing service “for” people. We give to causes that ask us for money. We allocate charitable funds based on how the company performed that year. When we pay it forward, we serve “with” people. We give generously without tying it to our bottom line. We give without being asked, simply because it is the right thing to do. The power that separates those two words is immense, and the gift of giving pays greater dividends when we choose to serve “with” rather than “for.”
Many Topeka businesses are already actively working to shift their focus to paying it forward rather than simply giving back.
MAKING AN IMPACTAdvisors Excel is no stranger to making an impact in the community. With headline grabbing fundraisers such as its company wide ice bucket challenge and monetary donations to various organizations and causes throughout Topeka, Advisors Excel is known for its civic involvement. However, founders Cody Foster, David Callanan and Derek Thompson wanted to make a bigger impact on issues affecting the local community. They made a calculated decision to stop giving back and start paying it forward.
“We are excited about really engaging our employees in going out and serving,” Foster said. “We are finding ways to do things in our own style.”
Strategic Giving That Advisors Excel style is to go “allin” to make the biggest impact possible. Instead of granting a few employees time off here and there to volunteer in the community, Advisors Excel looked at how it could magnify that desire for service to facilitate greater change. The first step was to create a new full-time position for a Community Outreach Coordinator responsible for identifying opportunities for Advisors Excel employees to serve the community. The second step involved narrowing the charitable focus to three or four specific causes.
“Our shift has gone from what good can we do for the community to how we can work together to do the MOST good,” Thompson said.
Advisors Excel’s goal going forward is to make a quantifiable difference in those core causes by investing money, time and resources.
Investing Money, Time & Resources The partnership with Harvesters is the first example of that new model for paying it forward. In September, Advisors Excel pledged $500,000 ($100,000 per year for the next five years) to feed more than 750,000 people in Kansas and Missouri.
In addition to financial support, Advisors Excel plans to commit 4,000 hours of employee time and resources over the next year. Every Thursday, from noon to 5 p.m., the company will send groups of 20 to 40 people from various departments to work alongside other Harvesters volunteers making sure people have access to quality food. This continuous cycle will allow employees to rotate through the volunteer process every eight weeks and provide Harvesters with much needed manpower.
“Giving money is cool, giving people is powerful,” Foster said.
Pay It Forward Culture Paying it forward is not only good for the community; it is also good for business. Callanan says employee morale has improved because working together for a common good creates a sense of teamwork within the organization.
Dustin Campbell, annuity operations consultant, says he feels honored to work for a company that gives him the opportunity to volunteer in the community.
“I believe everyone can and should give back at some level to their community, but what Advisors is doing is more than giving back. These guys are committed to making a difference, and it is contagious,” Campbell said.
That sense of pride helps with employee recruitment and retention, which in turn creates a compelling business environment.
“A generous business is attractive to people,” Foster said, “and having a company made up of generous people is attractive to potential advisors.”
The Big PictureAdvisors Excel praises the generosity of the people in our community. Businesses, both large and small, open their hearts and their wallets to support local causes. Callanan says one of the biggest factors behind their shift toward more aggressive giving tactics is the desire to provide a platform for other businesses to join the movement. They invite other companies to partner with Advisors Excel in their efforts to pay it forward.
“We’ve been really engaged in the community, but we’ve never really talked about it,” Callanan said. “We will probably be more proactive in communicating what we do because there are a lot of good things going on in Topeka and people don’t hear enough about them. We feel like there is a lot of momentum going on right now and we want to encourage others to jump in and participate.”
PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE Founded on the principle of “People Helping People,” Educational Credit Union has developed creative ways to allow more than just their employees to serve the community. They offer their credit union members the opportunity to pay it forward as well.
Empowering MembersAs a huge supporter of TARC, Inc., ECU employees have been volunteering at Winter Wonderland and participating in their golf tournament for several years. However, Jennifer Kirmse, vice president of business development, said the company wanted to do more than just volunteer their time. After considering their options, ECU created the TARC Visa debit card to allow their credit union members to get involved. Every time a member swipes and signs, ECU donates $.10 to TARC. In 2014, ECU donated more than $21,000 to TARC, and this year they are on track to up that total to $24,000.
That program was so successful that ECU opted to create a similar card for another cause it holds dear—The Topeka Rescue Mission. They launched The Topeka Rescue Mission debit card in November 2014 at the Rescue Run.
“The Rescue Mission does an amazing job of helping people, feeding them, giving them a place to stay, and work skills development,” Kirmse said. “We just felt compelled to be part of that effort.”
Today, almost 500 members carry The Topeka Rescue Mission debit card. And ECU is on track to donate at least $10,000 to the Rescue Mission this year as a result of the debit card and their holiday skip-a-pay program.
“We wanted to put it into the hands of our members and allow them to have a voice,” Kirmse said.
Empowering Employees That desire to serve permeates the entire organization. Employees volunteer their time for various community causes, management supports an environment of service, and even the executives roll up their sleeves and join the cause.
“Our president is an amazing sport,” Kirmse said. “In December 2013, he challenged us that if we could raise $2,500 in a week for TARC, he would shave his head. We raised $3,140, and he shaved his head at the holiday party.”
In addition to the community impact cards and volunteer opportunities, ECU is involved with the Topeka Credit Union Foundation, which raises funds and donates to community organizations. Employees donate a portion of their paycheck to this foundation, which has contributed more than $100,000 to local non-profits.
“We are a community partner,” Kirmse said. “We want to support the community we live in, we work in and send our kids to school in to make it the best place to live and raise our families.”
FOCUSED COMMITMENT For one Topeka company, paying it forward means taking care of our furry friends as well. Hill’s Pet Nutrition began its Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love program in 2002 as way to improve shelter pet adoption rates.
Food, Shelter & Love Recognizing that healthy animals are more likely to be adopted, the company looked for ways it could work with animal shelters to improve the health of the shelter pets. Logic dictated that a company specializing in pet nutrition could offer the biggest impact by assisting with the quality of food the dogs and cats in the shelters received. As a result, Hill’s began partnering with non-profit animal shelters by offering its Science Diet brand of pet foods at a significant discount.
“Most shelters want and need help to save as many pets as possible through adoption, and healthy pets are more adoptable pets,” said Dianne Perkins, U.S. Shelter Program Manager.
The program also provides a free bag of Science Diet pet food with each adoption to ensure a better transition for pets to their new home.
Since its inception, the Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love Program has donated more than $280 million worth of Science Diet brand foods to more than 800 shelters nationwide, helping to feed more than 100,000 homeless pets each day.
Topeka’s Helping Hands Humane Society has been one of Hill’s shelter partners for the past 15 years. Dick Kline, executive director of Helping Hands Humane Society, says Hill’s Pet Nutrition been a long time caring and supportive partner with Helping Hands, providing educational activities, sponsoring community events and providing consultation service on animal nutritional care issues.
“Without this partnership, we would be at a loss to be able to provide the level of feeding needed for the animals in our care,” Kline said.
Kline said Hill’s recognizes the unique challenges that shelters have in caring for and treating the needs of homeless animals.
“These are animals that typically arrive here in distressed condition— distressed medically, nutritionally and emotionally,” Kline said. “Hill’s partners with us by working to understand the problems that we encounter with our homeless population and help find solutions.”
While the shelter benefits from the resources and support provided by Hill’s, the animals are the ones who truly benefit from this program.
“By getting started on a healthy diet while in the shelter that can be continued by the pet owner, the animal can lead a long, happy and healthy life,” Kline said.
Tails on the TrailHill’s has also been instrumental in the success of local fundraisers such as Tails on the Trail, a dog-friendly 5k Run/Walk that benefits Helping Hands.
“Hill’s has been our main sponsor from day one,” said Lena Hayden, chairperson for Tails on the Trail. “Not only do they contribute financially, but they are also involved every step of the way through their involvement with our planning committee to participation on the day of our event.”
Hill’s support allows Tails on the Trails to keep animals top of mind rather than having to worry about covering expenses. Hill’s employees also attend the event every year, handing out dog and cat treats to the fourlegged race participants.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Hayden said. “Their support makes Tails on the Trail a huge success.” TK