IPA Blog

Supporting Employee Giving and Volunteering During COVID

Friday, April 23, 2021

An essential component of corporate giving, especially during a challenging year like 2020, proved to be growing employee engagement in philanthropy, volunteerism, and community involvement. To do this, community-minded employers retooled their approach to find meaningful ways to aid in the crisis while helping their staff safely donate their time, talent, and treasure. 

Like many other businesses, Buckingham Foundation—philanthropic partner of Buckingham Companies—actively questioned how to best position itself as a community asset. Employee engagement became a central aspect of this consideration. As the pandemic made it impossible for certain activities and gatherings to occur, campaigns such as Buckingham’s Give Five Initiative served a vital role in helping employees join the relief effort.

The Give Five campaign was inspired by an employee who wanted to contribute to Buckingham Foundation, but was unsure if $5 per paycheck would make an impact. This interest in efforts to give back to the community created an employee-giving campaign in which each employee donation is matched 100% by Buckingham’s founder, Brad Chambers, and his wife, Carol. 

2020 threw a curveball, and questions began to arise on how monetarily philanthropic and community minded employees could be during this difficult year. Yet, despite all of the challenges caused by the pandemic, Give Five did not suffer. In employee giving alone, Buckingham Foundation generated about $90,000, an increase of nearly $1,000 from 2019.

This type of employee matching campaign proves only the beginning of engagement and advocacy work possible for corporate philanthropies. In a recent IPA webinar presented to companies and foundations based in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, Buckingham Foundation’s Executive Director Theresa Rhodes and volunteer leader Ashley Parker shared strategies for successful corporate grant giving and community engagement they adopted during the pandemic. We’ve included takeaways from their conversation below. 

Do your part. 

Break down the overwhelming scale of the need into manageable pieces. Consider what work can be done with the assets that your foundation possesses at its disposal and work from there. Reducing the feeling of overwhelm when confronted with the sheer magnitude of need allows for a more careful consideration of possible approaches to a solution. 

This mantra of “do your part” can be applied to the future of philanthropy as well, as it helps to define concrete ways that you as an individual, or as a larger organization, can help to meet the needs within your community.

Proactive and reactive grant strategies.

This involves active engagement with the communities served. It requires having conversations with nonprofit organizations and fellow funders in those communities to determine what the needs truly are, as well as any topical issues that need to be addressed.

Basic needs, especially towards the beginning of the pandemic, needed to be ascertained and resolved quickly. Therefore, decisions on both larger and smaller scales had to occur rapidly as well. Early into the pandemic, this meant delivering toilet paper, household goods, and gift cards. 

COVID-19 also caused Buckingham Foundation to realize a need for innovation in their process. They evaluated company culture and used the entrepreneurial spirit present to re-imagine their grant process and develop more trust-based—or relationship-based—philanthropy. This type of philanthropy requires solid relationships preexistent within the communities, and because Buckingham had already created these connections, it was able to institute this innovative grant giving approach in March and April of 2020.

Community involvement as a core value. 

Engaging directly with communities that employees live and work in provides countless benefits, including higher employee satisfaction and retention rates. By allowing and encouraging employees to give back, Buckingham aids the surrounding communities and generates a happier company environment simultaneously.

Generally, one of the largest company endeavors used to promote community involvement at Buckingham Foundation is its annual Day of Service. This activity is deeply entwined within Buckingham’s mission. However, in order to abide by safety guidelines, it had to be reimagined. As part of their 2020 Day of Service campaign, Buckingham promoted Random Acts of Kindness among its staff. This campaign allowed employees to volunteer in ways they were most comfortable with during the pandemic. Employees were also encouraged to use their company-allotted 12 hours of volunteer time off, which is in addition to their PTO, on their own to gift their time and talent in 2020. Last year, Buckingham employees volunteered (virtually and in-person) a total of about 4,600 hours to help their communities.

While so many of these drives to engage employees and retain community involvement changed in appearance due to the pandemic, the new approaches to address community needs fulfilled much of the same goals that standard practice worked to attain. 


Want to hear more from Buckingham? IPA members can watch their full presentation hosted in collaboration by IPA, Council of Michigan Foundations, and Philanthropy Ohio here.

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