The gift of giving (even when there’s little to give)

By Cristin Heyns-Bousliman 

In an issue about money, the likely focus is going to be “how to make more,” “how to save more,” and “how to grow.” So, of course, I am here to tell you how to give it away. In 2019, Americans gave more than $440 billion to charity. Of that, 29 percent went to religious institutions, and 55 percent went to a combination of education, human services, foundations, and health nonprofits. Arts and culture and the environment came in at 5 percent and 3% percent, respectively. (Source: Giving USA 2020) 

We all know that corporations and foundations make up a fair amount of annual giving, but individual donations are actually on the rise. The great news is that this is not only a favorable development for deserving nonprofits, but it is also wonderful for the health and wellbeing of the individual. As it turns out, giving makes us feel happier than spending the same money on ourselves. It gives us a feeling of social connection, releases endorphins, and has even been shown to improve the health of individuals with chronic illnesses and the longevity of senior citizens. (Source: 5 Ways Giving Is Good for You, Jason Marsh & Jill Suttie, December 13, 2010, Greater Good Magazine, The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley).

In my prior role as VP of human resources for a chain of quick service restaurants, I was given the fun, yet challenging, opportunity to find ways for entry-level wage earners to give back to their communities. As one might suspect, a majority of our team members did not feel that they had anything to give. That year, we issued a challenge to our stores, allowing them to compete against each other in designing and executing a community service project. We offered a small investment for supplies as well as the opportunity to win a fabulous prize, then got out of their way. The results were magnificent – among other incredible projects, our teams orchestrated a picnic for the moms and kids staying at a domestic violence shelter, a library cleanup, a sensory course at an equine therapy nonprofit, and one team planted over 800 trees! Ultimately, it wasn’t that our teams didn’t have anything to give, they just needed inspiration to think outside of the box on how to make it happen.

Here are some easy ways to encourage entry-level team members to jump on the giving train without breaking the bank:

1. Participate in Workplace Campaign through United Way. A $20 per paycheck automatic deduction (i.e. one less trip to Starbucks per week) adds up to nearly $500 per year of giving with no effort at all.

2. Set an example in your purchasing habits. Purchase office and breakroom supplies from companies who give back, and encourage your team members to do the same. Consider coffee companies like Blk & Bold which gives 5 percent of its profits to supporting at-risk youth through more than ten organizations nationwide. (https://blkandbold.com/pages/a-little-about-us)

3. Issue a giving challenge. Entry-level wage earners may not have as much cash to give, but their time is just as valuable. Throw down your own giving gauntlet and heartily reward volunteerism.

4. Encourage nonprofit board participation. Nonprofit boards are always searching for engaged young professionals to sit on ad hoc committees, help out with fundraising events, or even join the board. Employers should not only allow this type of community involvement, but should encourage it and reward team members for their participation.

5. Double down. Employers can offer to double donations to nonprofits up to a certain annual amount per employee, giving each team member motivation to give knowing that their gift, no matter how small, with go farther. Plus, corporate giving typically comes with tax perks, so it’s a win/win! 


Cristin Heyns-Bousliman, Esq., is department head of REDW Human Resources Consulting practice. Her team consults with businesses of all sizes nationwide, assisting in building strong cultures while facing employee-relations matters with a proactive, legal mindset. 

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