Four ways philanthropy helps develop great teams

Sharon Fishburne
Managing Director and Owner
Sharon Fishburne Consultancy
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Businesses today understand the value of corporate philanthropy. They know that if implemented effectively, social responsibility programmes play a vital role in building a positive reputation, increasing awareness, and improving sales.

That means companies across the world are becoming more involved in philanthropy, sometimes to plug gaps in government resourcing and to support community groups who are often overlooked. Many entrepreneurs such as Eli Broad, Andrew NisbetStuart Roden have also expressed the view that businesses have a responsibility to support charities both locally and internationally.

Philanthropy delivers benefits across the board. But few companies realise the important internal role that philanthropy can play in creating great, high-performing teams. Here are four ways philanthropy can help you develop your teams, and individuals.

Philanthropic engagement builds professional skills

Today’s employees demand more from a job than they ever did in the past, and we can’t escape this attitude change. Every day we’re bombarded with statistics and surveys on how younger workers want meaningful jobs with authentic brands. But it’s worth remembering that they also want jobs with real career progression, and the opportunity to learn new skills and have new experiences.

Philanthropy gives companies the chance to do all these things, and it makes sense. In fact, according to a Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, 92% of HR executives agree that when employees volunteer their business skills and expertise to a charity it improves both leadership and professional skills.

Thankfully, getting your employees to participate doesn’t have to be difficult. There is a growing number of organisations that can help companies make volunteering efficient and effective, and enhance team working skills. BeyondMe, for example, bring together teams of professionals and then match that team’s skills with a suitable project. They get involved for one year, and up to 81% of volunteers report that they gained leadership or professional skills during the attachment.  

Social incentives encourage high performance

For decades, employee incentive schemes have played a big part in the way we encourage high performance. Financial incentives such as performance-related pay are widespread. However there is evidence that the appetite for this type of incentive is on the wane. According to the CIPD, it’s down from 55% of companies in 2013, to 48% in 2017.

At the same time, new incentives such as those linked to team productivity are on the rise, but the next big thing is likely to be social incentives. This makes sense. A 2015 study undertaken at Southampton University found that ‘when workers are given a social incentive such as a charitable donation linked to their job, performance increases by an average of 13 per cent, rising to 30 per cent amongst those who are initially the least productive’.

Thirty per cent is a big figure in any context, and it’s especially interesting when you apply it to teams. If you can raise the performance of your weakest team members, the whole team’s collective productivity increases exponentially.

Philanthropy can inspire creativity and bring teams together

Successful teams take an idea, project or their day-to-day work and run with it – hopefully all in the same direction. Sometimes however teams have a habit of splintering, creating cliques, or homogenising into a mass devoid of new thinking or creativity. Either way, this spells trouble for productivity, and eventually, profits.

Strategic corporate philanthropy can help gather teams together and inspire their creativity. Exposure to charities can often spark new ideas, and can help teams really see the value of focusing on a common objective together. But even more importantly, contact with charities helps teams see the vital importance of vision, mission and working together to achieve a common goal.

Charities don’t have the luxury of time, nor can they afford to do anything but get straight to the point. They need money and they need it now. This gives smaller community charities especially the freedom to be bold and creative when it comes to fundraising. Exposure to this can-do attitude and sense of urgency can be empowering for corporate teams. 

Philanthropy creates a strong team culture

Philanthropy bonds people together, and opens their eyes to the world around them. This can have the effect of creating a more respectful, communicative group culture. Getting involved with charities that serve disadvantaged young people for example can spark new, often revealing, conversations.

Bonding does not stop there either. Giving to charity and getting involved is contagious. According to a 2004 Harvard University study, an individual’s decision to participate is strongly influenced by whether or not their peers participate. Using a social incentive, or getting involved in a volunteering programme creates a bonding effect and builds the feeling of tasks being a group effort.

In fact, the same study found that individuals are also responsive to changes in their peers’ participation levels over time. So they are, eventually, all pulling upward at similar rates. This kind of teambuilding is new and different, and it plays to the changing attitudes of younger employees.      

Philanthropy has a part to play in building great teams, of that there can be no doubt. But to be effective we need to be smarter and bolder when it comes to creating a philanthropic strategy. It’s time to stop looking companywide, and start focusing our efforts at team level; creating small, individual programmes that are tailored to the interests of teams. The companies that are focusing their philanthropy at team level may well be the ones which will see skills, productivity and profits rise long term.  

About Sharon Fishburne

Sharon Fishburne

A columnist and marketing expert, I previously worked at number of the biggest global consultancies, including PwC, advising multinationals on their expansion strategy. I saw the value that smaller local businesses could take from the process too.

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