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Giving, With a Twist

Businesses Get Creative to Get Employees Involved

Di Lewis

December 1, 2011

When it comes to giving back to the community, companies have a host of options. While some companies stick to the basic giving programs and techniques, others are a little more creative.  Many of those companies have discovered that creative thinking can jumpstart employee interest and create new traditions.

Part of finding unusual ways to give back is thinking about what would be helpful for employees, says Mauri Love, CLEARLINK chief culture officer. “Our first commitment is giving back to the people in our building, and whenever we can do that in conjunction with giving back to people in the community, we’re all in,” she says. “It’s easiest to write a check, but it’s not a unique or memorable experience.”

One example of merging employee and community interests is the company’s Pound for Pound program. For every pound of fat lost and pound of muscle gained by an employee, the company donates $10 to the Utah Food Bank. Furthermore, as employees lose weight, the company collects and donates their clothing to Big Brothers Big Sisters Utah.

For Lifetime Products, finding an interesting way to help out was only half the battle—the company faced the additional problem of finding something their 1,300 employees could do together. Lifetime Products started by rehabbing local parks, says Denise Wandling, vice president of human resources. Employees loved getting out and improving the cities they live in.

Finding a new project has become a fun challenge every year. One of Wandling’s favorite projects has been helping to fix up the Ogden cemetery on 21st Street. Lifetime Products employees have planted flowerbeds and trees, laid sod, cleaned up and even leveled old headstones.

By looking to its employees, Lifetime Products found another untapped way to give back, says Tonnie Dixon, PR and communications coordinator. The company employs many former and current members of the military. So for the past two years, as part of its Memorial Day Salute Our Troops event, the company donates 5 percent of proceeds to the Utah Military Family Fund.

Zions Bank’s most visible service project was born out of a similar dilemma: the bank wanted to involve its many employees in volunteer work, to have something that was both team building and charitable. From those goals, the Paint-A-Thon, where employees paint and clean up homes of elderly and disadvantaged people, became an annual tradition.

            Rob Brough, executive vice president of marketing for Zions, says since they began the Paint-A-Thon in 1991, employees have painted 837 homes for people with an average age of 73 and average income of $17,000. The bank donates all materials and it works with local churches and organizations to find those most in need.

Brough says homeowners are always appreciative, and it gives employees a lot of satisfaction to see such a visible difference from the weeklong project. They also have a lot of fun.

 “You get to know someone in a different way outside of work hours. You’re in jeans and a t-shirt getting dirty, pulling a stump out and throwing paint around,” he says.

Cyprus Credit Union finds a way to help both members and charities every winter. Credit union members can participate in the Skip a Pay program in November or December every year, where, for a $30 donation, they can skip a loan payment in one month, says Jessica Taylor, marketing and public relations coordinator. Members get extra money for holiday shopping while feeling good that their money is going to help others.

Taylor says other financial institutions offer similar programs, but Cyprus is one of the few that gives all the money to charity. “It’s their money and they entrust us to get it back in the community,” she says. Donations go to Primary Children’s Medical Center, Ride for Life and the Utah MS Society.

Giving Back Within
Along with helping others, many companies are dedicated to helping their own. Denise Wandling, vice president of human resources, says Lifetime Products’ Values in Action program gives employees the opportunity to donate between $1 and $5 a paycheck. That money goes into a fund to help any employee with a need, such as financial or medical hardship. The fund is zeroed out every year and unused funds are used to give Thanksgiving boxes to between 60 and 100 employees.

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