General Meeting Emphasizes Importance of Philanthropy

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On Thursday, November 9, the Columbus Apartment Association welcomed members to the Wells Barn at Franklin Park Conservatory for the final General Membership Meeting of the year.

CAA Executive Director, Laura Swanson began the meeting by recognizing the four recipients of this year’s CAA Community Assistance Foundation donations.  She asked representatives from Patches of Light, COMPASS, the Red Cross and Community Properties of Ohio Scholar House to stand and be recognized.  The donation checks were presented by CAA Secretary and incoming President David Holzer.

Swanson turned the podium over to CAA President Nate Fisher for the final time in the tenure of his Presidency.  Fisher introduced the keynote speakers, Hilary Marshall of CASTO and Carter Hatch of The Columbus Foundation.

Marshall began the conversation by discussing the mission of their employee volunteer program and some of the objectives they set out to achieve.  She noted that due to the size of the company organizing philanthropy for all of their associates can be daunting. 

“The way that we approach philanthropy is through our Community Impact Committee.  A group of individuals in various departments in our offices who organize different outings and activities throughout the year,” Marshall said.  “It’s very grassroots and very employee driven.”

CASTO has, in the past, participated in charitable events such as food and coat drives.  However, in 2016 Marshall saw an opportunity for more.  Celebrating the 90th anniversary of CASTO she proposed the idea of 1,926 hours of giving, recognizing the year the company was founded.

The marketing department had been brainstorming ideas to celebrate the anniversary and the idea came to her in the middle of the night.  CASTO challenged their employees to collectively volunteer 1,926 hours of their time throughout the year.  Marshall proposed the idea to the Community Impact Committee.  She stated the ease of the proposal and the program made it easy to enact and allow individuals to participate.

“We decided the best way to implement it was to get our executives involved.  Some are here in Central Ohio and one is in Florida.  We asked them to identify organizations they are passionate about that we could sponsor service days through,” she outlined.  “Throughout the year we set up different service days and allowed our employees to sign up and we asked our executives to volunteer too.  A lot of our associates don’t get the face time others get with these leaders.  We wanted it to be an opportunity where we could bring our associates together and have them work alongside our leaders.”

Again, she emphasized the ease of the program noting that most sessions were set up during work hours and just asked that employees work with their supervisors to be sure their duties were covered and not feel overwhelmed upon return to their office.  CASTO also asked that associates give back on their own time.  The individual simply had to bring a note back from where they had volunteered, whether it be church, a school event or something else stating that they had volunteered and the number of hours.  Those hours would then be counted toward the end goal.

In the end CASTO far exceeded their goal with employees volunteering 2,912 hours of community service.  In analyzing the participation, 62% of the associates participated and each averaged 23 hours of service.

“The feedback we received from all of our associates was incredible.  They loved having the opportunity to work alongside people they don’t normally get to,” she said.  “Especially, our site level people.  To be able to put a face to a name made it nice and made communication easier going forward.”

Marshall continued in stating that within the multifamily community there’s an opportunity to be engaged in the community and with residents.  CASTO has recently emphasized on-site programming even adding a position to develop programming for development.  Having surveyed the residents CASTO recognized that over 60% of their residents wanted volunteer opportunities and even had contests among the communities.  Over the past two years they have done a food drive in December raising over 1,000 pounds of food for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.  Given the results, they are excited to continue to look for new opportunities for their communities to give back.

Marshall then turned the program over to Hatch who spoke on more of the corporate giving element to philanthropy and trends.  The Columbus Foundation sees that companies have recognized that if they’re to recruit, retain and attract new talent it is vital they have a focus on corporate philanthropy.

“The workplace and corporate giving programs are no longer about just giving once a year, it’s becoming a relevant part of employee culture,” she said.  “The importance of social issues is changing.  How employees and consumers is changing.  Purpose and impact drive more and more decisions, both within the company and with their partners.”

The ever present topic of Millennials in the workplace is also driving the conversation.  What they’re finding is that with more and more Millennials in the workforce the corporate culture is a large factor in their decision to work at one company versus another.

“What we’re finding with Millennials,” Marshall chimed in, “Is that business as usual is no longer enough.  If we want to keep people around for a long time we need to do a little bit more and a little bit extra for your company culture to attract and retain talent.”

“Millennials, we’re finding, are looking for a way for their company to provide them with that pride and purpose beyond their paycheck,” Hatch agreed.  “Having something to talk about that your company is passionate about will resonate with your employees in the future.  Today’s employees have high expectations around the accountability, the transparency, the interaction and the technology in which the traditional campaign model doesn’t deliver.  People have to change the way they engage their employees and give back.”

Hatch said one thing they find companies struggle with is how to get their employees to participate.  From a giving perspective, the easiest way to encourage participation is through matching grants.  Matching grants show that the company is engaged as well as the employee.  It’s an authentic commitment to their employees giving back.  Secondly, she emphasized Marshall’s previous point about making programs and giving easy.  If a company can make it easy, they can get people who don’t normally engage to participate.  Automatically payroll deductions is an easy way to allow people to give back without people having to take time to do it.

“Convenience and being asked are two important drivers in donation activity,” Hatch stated.  “Make giving personal.  Make it align with your company, or allow the employee to make personal choices.  You’ll see there’s a huge increase when a company says you can give to whatever you want as long as you’re giving back.”

She suggested that if a company does want to limit a list, allow the employees to suggest organizations that are included on the list.  Having the ability to have a say in organizations increases engagement.  Additionally, people participate with incentives.  Allow employees to have “charitable gift cards” providing an amount and allowing them to donate the amount fuels the thought process of who they give to and why.  Eventually, that process leads individuals to donate their own funds.

“Volunteering and giving do feed off of each other.  The more engaged an employee feels, the more they do things that matter to them, the more likely they are to contribute and to increase the impact of giving,” Hatch said.  “We see that there will be paid release time, or a company day of service.  We’re also seeing programs like ‘dollars for doing’ where it’s paid volunteer time.  People are getting very creative in how they engage their employees.”

Companies are also looking to give back to their own employees through emergency relief programs.  The Columbus Foundation and the Salvation Army have partnered together to provide relief efforts to companies through programs that provide assistance from their employees to other employees who may have fallen on hard times.

Marshall concluded by emphasizing Hatch’s final point that they’ve decided to give back to their employees as well.  Noting they’ve taken $10 off of what they typically spent on their employee holiday gift and allowed the employee to designate where that $10 is donated.

Swanson thanked the pair for their time and thoughts and encouraged members to implement them in their own ways.  Following the presentation Hatch and Marshall stayed to answer individual member questions.

The afternoon wrapped up with the annual CAA Expo Booth Lottery where 40 booths were sold to kick off the annual event.