Oak Brook, Ill.,
08:13 AM

Ace Foundation Manager Christine Doucet on why fundraising is a powerful employee engagement tool

“It makes me feel important.”

I recently presented to Ace retailers about how fundraising for an organization or cause can transform a store’s culture. Jeremy Melnick of Gordon’s Ace Hardware in Chicago, who is one of Ace’s top fundraisers, joined me as a presenter. When we were preparing, I challenged Jeremy to ask his employees about how fundraising for their local Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Hospital – Ace’s national charitable partner – makes them feel.

He videotaped about 30 of his employees responding to the same question: “How does it make you feel to raise funds for Lurie Children’s Hospital?”

As expected, the responses included the word “proud,” but we also heard “important,” “humbled,” and “grateful.” He even learned that an employee’s grandson had passed away at the very hospital they were raising funds for…that employee’s “why” for fundraising.

In today’s world, employers are constantly searching for the magic bullet to improve their culture and better engage employees. Money is no longer the only driver for employee retention and loyalty – people are looking for something more in their jobs. Fundraising may seem like an unlikely source of employee engagement, but it can be extremely powerful.

“Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.” – James Goodnight

This holiday season many retailers across the country will “tell” their cashiers to ask for a charitable donation when checking out customers. How many times have you been asked for a donation by an unenthusiastic associate who clearly was “told” to recite a line and couldn’t tell you anything about the charity? Did it move you to donate?

Failing to explain your company’s charitable partnership to your employees – your fundraisers on the front line – is not only detrimental to the charity, but it’s also a lost opportunity for employee engagement. Because, just like your employees have a “why,” your company has one, too. Take the time to explain your company’s “why” for philanthropy; why is it important and why you are asking for their help.

The real magic happens when you take it a step further and show them the “why.” Let them see firsthand where the dollars they are raising are going, so that when they make that ask, they can proudly share their experience with your customers. We encourage our Ace store owners to take their teams on tours of their local CMN Hospital. I promise you that employees will leave inspired to raise funds and feel proud to be a part of your team.

So, back to Jeremy and the Gordon’s Ace team. He credits fundraising – yes fundraising – with helping to change his entire company’s culture. Why? Because it wasn’t about sales, it wasn’t about him. And, while he told his team he wanted them to raise funds for Lurie Children’s Hospital, he asked them to set a goal. The first year of the fundraising program the Gordon’s Ace stores raised $1,500. That number has increased drastically during the past five years. Last year they set a goal of $50,000 and surpassed it by raising $76,000.

Fundraising is now part of their monthly new employee orientation, annual meeting and – most importantly – who they are as a company. It has resulted in an elevated sense of comradery among employees and has given many of his team members a larger purpose beyond their jobs as a cashier or sales associate.

I encourage you to ask your employees how philanthropy makes them feel. You might be surprised by what you learn. And, don’t forget to share your company’s “why” with your employees – make sure they understand why you chose your charitable partnership and what it means to your company. If nothing else, if will make them feel informed, but it may also make them feel more engaged, empowered and inspired.

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