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How Corporate Philanthropy Can Boost Employee Retention and Engagement

Workers participate in a food drive

Many, if not most, companies support charitable organizations.

They do so in varying degrees. In some cases, employers report that in addition to doing good, charitable giving can be a way to attract, motivate and retain employees—especially younger ones.

However, I know from experience that many of these companies don’t focus on publicizing or incorporating their charitable endeavors into their ongoing communications and dealings with employees. High-level leaders may embrace and find meaning in the charitable efforts, but the commitment gets lost as it moves down the organizational chart.

Using specific examples, this column explores what companies can do to promote good in the world, as well as make their own workplace a better place. I asked companies the following questions:

  • What charitable organizations or causes does your company support?
  • Does your company have a specific mission, vision or plan regarding corporate philanthropy? If so, what is it?
  • What steps have you taken to involve employees in or make them aware of the company’s philanthropic efforts?
  • Aside from the recipients receiving much-needed support, what have been the benefits of your corporate philanthropy, including in terms of employee engagement or retention?

We’ll hear from three companies, after which I’ll summarize what I believe are the key lessons from their experiences.

USANA Health Sciences

USANA is a publicly traded company with 1,850 employees worldwide in 24 markets. In 2012, it created the USANA Foundation. Chief People Officer Paul Jones explains that the foundation has two principal components centered on providing sustainable, long-lasting and nutritious food to needy children and families:

  1. Kids Eat, which works with schools and other sponsors to ensure that every schoolchild in challenging economic circumstances has enough to eat.
  2. Garden Towers, which partners with other nonprofit organizations globally to provide tools, resources, training and other support to enable people to grow sustainable nutritious food locally.

The foundation’s work to date has resulted in over 100 million meals being provided in 44 countries.

The USANA Foundation happily accepts donations, all of which go toward its programs. The corporation covers 100 percent of the foundation’s administrative expenses so that nearly all the $30 million donated to the foundation thus far has gone to supporting its causes.

According to Jones, both USANA employees and the company’s independent sales associates who work from their own businesses have been actively involved in the foundation’s work, donating substantial money and time. “At our home quarters, we provide a warehouse for foundation work, and many employees spend time there, including on company time,” Jones says. “They pack food bags and do other tasks to support the work.”

New employee orientation at USANA includes learning about the foundation, as well as packing food bags. In addition, every quarterly all-hands meeting includes an update on the foundation’s work.

Periodically, the corporation arranges trips to various locations, nationally and internationally, where employees help implement Garden Tower projects. This is done on company time and at company expense. “Many employees have told me that these trips were inspiring,” says Jones, “and even life-changing.”

Foundation President Brian Paul adds, “I have to say I’m in awe. This is real corporate philanthropy.” Every 60 to 90 days, Paul gives an update to USANA’s executive team. “Instead of, ‘What’s this going to cost?’, it’s always, “What else can we do?’ ” he says. “It’s all about doing good, not looking good.”

“It was not our intention that the foundation have a primary purpose to serve corporate ends,” Jones notes. “However, annual employee engagement surveys indicate that the impact of our philanthropy on employee engagement and retention is definitely affected positively. Both employees and customers want to be part of a good cause that really matters.”

Jones adds that USANA actively promotes its foundation. “The intent of the foundation is not to market or sell our products, it’s to increase the geographic scope and depth of the good USANA and the foundation do,” he says. “Indeed, it’s been great for my engagement and retention!”

1-800 Contacts

1-800 Contacts is an online contact lens retailer that has a history of generous donations to philanthropic organizations, including Tech-Moms, which opens doors for women to gain economic freedom through flexible careers in the technology industry; American Indian Services, which supports the Native American population with scholarships and other educational opportunities including rigorous STEM instruction; and Encircle, which provides mental health services and other support for LGBTQ+ youths, young adults and families.

Senior HR business partner Peng Se Lim says the company’s commitment centers on three things:

  1. vision care for those who can’t afford it,
  2. mental health, including suicide prevention, and
  3. other support for organizations that are improving their communities.

Peng explains that company employees contribute their time by packing hygiene items and other materials for homeless shelters, donating and packing school supplies for local school districts, and hosting an annual Vision Day for American Indian Services with free eye exams and glasses.

In addition to corporate charitable contributions, the 1,400-employee company matches every employee’s donation to a nonprofit, up to $500 per year per employee. There are also periodic “lunch and learn” events where employees learn about various charitable and community-oriented organizations and activities.

In terms of impact on employee engagement and retention, Peng says, “I don’t think it’s an accident that our company scores super high on the Gallup cultural index.” He continues to hear from employees who find value in 1-800 Contacts’ philanthropic endeavors: “I’ve heard, ‘This is why I love the company,’ ‘We are living our big-hearted values,’ and ‘I belong here.’ ”


Designetics is a family-owned company that develops and manufactures fluid dispensing equipment and systems. Fifteen years ago, it created the Designetics Cares Foundation, which supports a variety of organizations with a particular focus on children in need.

Activities include sponsoring events where company employees participate; packing meals for kids; cleanup days; volunteer efforts in local schools; plant tours and other STEM-related opportunities; and periodic “lunch and learns” where representatives from nonprofits share with employees about the work they’re doing. In addition, each employee gets eight hours of paid time per year to volunteer at any organization they choose.

Events range from fundraising dinners where employees sit at tables purchased by the foundation, to outdoor activities such as a golf outing, to a dance contest at an inner-city school.

“Our philanthropic work is a cornerstone of who we are,” company President Sydney Williams says. She adds that it’s not only a matter of giving back, it’s also a great way to involve and engage Designetics employees. “They love it,” she says. “When we host or participate in an event, at least 90 percent of our managers participate, along with a substantial number of other employees. It’s a great way for our people to get to know each other and learn about nonprofits and needs in our community.”

Williams also notes that employees can suggest organizations for the foundation to help, such as local autism support and heart organizations.

HR coordinates these events and promotes employee involvement. CHRO Holly DuVall says, “We try to balance our charitable events with our production needs. So far, we’ve been successful.” DuVall believes that the company’s philanthropic commitment has been important in recruitment and retention, especially with management: “I’ve heard over and over from employees that they love these opportunities to give back.”

Billy Mann is the director of development and communications for the Boys & Girls Club of Toledo, Ohio, one of the organizations Designetics supports. “Designetics has been a great supporter,” Mann says. “They don’t just write a check. They also provide volunteers, ideas and board service.”

Mann cites as an example his organization’s coat drive ahead of its annual Christmas party. Williams noticed that a lot of the kids who come to the party often lack good winter coats. She proposed a coat drive that Designetics has supported ever since. “Now,” says Mann, “when the kids come to our Christmas party, if they need a good winter coat, they get one.”

Mann describes Designetics as a “hands-on, get-into-the-weeds” supporter. “Some donors condition their gifts on something they want. With Designetics, it’s the opposite,” he says. “Instead, it’s, ‘What can we do that you really need? What problems can we help you solve? What opportunities can we help you develop?’

“With Designetics, it’s not a handout. It’s a partnership.”


The lessons from these companies for other corporate leaders are threefold:

  1. Dedicate a portion of your financial success to helping others in need.
  2. Engage your employees as much as you can in your company’s charitable endeavors.
  3. Enjoy the goodwill you’ll generate both within and outside your organization.


Jathan Janove, J.D., is a SHRM columnist, a former state bar “Employment Law Attorney of the Year,” author of Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins, 2017), Master Coach and “Ask the Coach” columnist for Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered CoachingÒ, and author of the upcoming book “Culture and Human Capital Strategy First; Compliance Third: Radically Rethinking HR.”


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