The Many Benefits of Establishing a Culture of Giving

BIOPhoto_AlessandraCavalluzzi_200pxThere is a lot of discussion about the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and its impact on local communities, a company’s image and even its bottom line. There is an area, however, though equally significant a component as the others, that is often overlooked in this conversation. That is the way in which CSR strengthens a company’s culture and offers associates (employees) at all levels an opportunity to become more engaged.

I am the senior manager of community relations at MSC Industrial Supply Co., one of the nation’s largest direct marketers and premier distributors of Metalworking & Maintenance, Repair and Operations ("MRO") supplies. I work out of our company’s headquarters in Melville, NY, and have seen firsthand the way in which our community engagement programming has benefited our corporate culture. But let’s take a step back. While giving back has always been one of our core values, and an important element of MSC’s culture, in 2005 we decided to formalize this tradition through the creation of the Community Relations Department, which coordinates all of the company’s CSR programming.

We sponsor a variety of activities every month including fundraisers, charity walks, and other community events. In addition, we participate in broader partnerships such as one with the NY Islanders hockey team that supports veterans, and another with the United Way of Long Island which supports low-income youth between the ages of 18 – 24. Through our Community Relations Department MSC also provides assistance and support during times of need. When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last year, our team moved quickly to develop a plan of action. In addition to monetary and in-kind donations, MSC coordinated “Days of Service” during the work week by reaching out to local non-profits and community groups to offer assistance in the areas hardest hit by the storm. These service days stretched over several months, and put Associates on the ground to provide hands-on help with the relief efforts. We’ve also responded when disasters have struck in other areas of the country, and in the global community, through fundraisers and in-kind donations of product.

One of the highlights of our Community Relations program is that it offers our associates the opportunity to branch out beyond their work role and become involved in a variety of rewarding projects that benefit the community. Our work is supported by a cross-functional team of associate volunteers who assist in the planning and execution of events. We have a total of six teams. One team in our Melville location, and five satellite Community Outreach Teams in our Customer Fulfillment Centers across the country. The satellite teams offer MSC associates outside of our Melville HQ the opportunity to support our company’s corporate citizenship efforts. We have found this to be a source of empowerment for our associates in that they feel that they have a direct impact on the program & its initiatives. In addition, there is the general population of associates who choose to participate in the individual events.

Feedback is important, and we regularly ask our associates for feedback regarding our events and our program overall. They respond by providing our team with suggestions for new charitable programming and organizations to consider. It is important to remember that in addition to asking for feedback, you should also thank your employees for their participation. At MSC we acknowledge associates who volunteer their time to attend our sponsored events in our community by gathering together every year to celebrate our spirit of volunteerism.

Our community relations program yields a range of internal benefits as well. Our ongoing, local programming provides associates an opportunity to connect with colleagues from different departments with whom they might not otherwise interact. The regularity of our programs also affords them the freedom to connect on a deeper level - and attend events that suit their schedule and their passion. The program also serves as an important recruiting tool, as many strong candidates are attracted to our culture of teamwork, delivering positive results, and giving back.

MSC’s significant CSR footprint within the communities we live and work in is due in large part to the variety and frequency of our community relations efforts. As we prepare to open our new co-headquarters in Davidson, NC, we have reached out to the community of Davidson and the surrounding area to proactively establish relationships that will play an important role in our Community Relations program at our new facility.

In closing I thought I’d share some key learnings and experiences I’ve gained through my work at MSC, with the hope that you might choose to embark on a similar program of giving within your organization:

  1. All levels need to believe in the importance of culture – Share your CSR objectives with the entire organization to help employees from every level understand the connection between CSR and your company’s core values & culture.
  2. How you leverage the resources you have makes all the difference - Not all CSR events require a large investment of dollars. Clothing or food drives are perfect examples. These are events that require little or no money to hold, but reap big benefits with regard to employee morale, pride in your company, and the feeling of satisfaction that comes with helping those in need.
  3. Interactive programs lead to engaged associates – Solicit feedback, new program ideas and ways to improve the program from your employees. This will lead to more engaged program participants, and build a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
  4. Associates are your best ambassadors – Associates who are passionate about the program and who emulate your culture are your strongest assets. These individuals will help ensure that all levels are kept in the know, and that your programs remain fresh and positive.