“One of the things I’ve seen in the Millennial generation is that they have a real desire to give back to the community. But it’s also intensely personal for them,” says Joe Schumacher, president and CEO of Goddard Systems, which operates the Goddard School franchise. Schumacher instituted a program to offer the company’s 140 corporate-office employees “volunteer time off,” or eight VTO hours to help the charity of their choice. “I’m not an expert on the evolution of this, but 10 or 20 years ago, corporations would say, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ I felt that empowering employees to make their own choices would be more meaningful.”
Bob Boudreau, CEO of WinterWyman, a global recruiting firm, agrees. When he formalized the company’s giving strategy 10 years ago by creating a new role for community development and employee engagement and establishing a new committee to develop philanthropic projects and execute them, he was clear on one thing: “I said, ‘I don’t want this to be the Bob Boudreau philanthropic club. I want it to be what you guys want it to be’. I do not have veto power.”
Even as a recruitment firm, WinterWyman’s senior team did not expect the new strategy to impact its own recruiting. “That wasn’t even on our radar screen,” says David Sanford, EVP, client relations. “[Doing good] was our initial driver, but what we found was that when you do this stuff, you end up reaping these ancillary benefits you didn’t anticipate when you started out. As we were working the marketplace and trying to attract people, 20- and 30-somethings, that became an important part of why they wanted to come here.”
Bill Austin, founder and CEO of Starkey Hearing Technologies, puts it simply: “People like to be served by people who care.” Starkey, a Minnesota-based, 4,100-employee company that is the largest hearing aid manufacturer in the U.S., has its own foundation that has pledged, as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, to fit one million people across the globe with hearing aids this decade.
Austin spends the majority of his time doing hearing aid fittings for challenging cases around the globe, and freely admits the company could be earning more if he worked more hours on the business side. “But then I’d have no life. So I traded money for life,” he says, pointing out that many younger employees are all too happy to make that same trade-off today. That might not work as well, he adds, if his company were not privately owned. “I would be sued by my shareholders if I was public,” he says.
Edwards Lifesciences is a public company, but CEO Michael Mussallem says they’ve been able to keep the board happy by watching global-giving norms among high performing companies. “We try to stay mindful of that and responsible from a shareholder point of view.” That means creating clear goals with measurable results. Last year, the Edwards Lifesciences Fund celebrated its 10th anniversary by launching a new initiative called “Every Heartbeat Matters,” with a 2020 goal to impact the global burden of heart valve disease by supporting the education, screening and treatment of 1 million underserved people. The fund will support 25-plus nonprofit partner organizations selected to help Edwards Lifesciences reach its target.
“We expect, in return, that they will be able to tell us what their results are,” Mussallem says. “How many people who were underserved did you treat, how many were screened and so on. We keep score on that.” The company also has a challenge that every one of its 9,500 employees participate in at least one charitable activity per year. They’re close to 75 percent now, and Mussallem is confident they will reach full participation.
Mussallem notes that for a long time, the prevailing wisdom was that it might be idealistic to think you could have both a rewarding return for shareholders and be a great place to work. But, as it turns out, the two really go hand in hand. As Boudreau puts it, “It’s not rocket science. It’s just got to matter to you.”