Forces For Good: The Heroes Among Us

It’s no secret that we have big problems in every community and around the globe—from disease, poverty, environmental challenges, and educational and social justice issues, to disaster relief needs. The good news is that promotional products industry companies are in a great position to do something about all of these problems—with beneficial business results. With a December 2015 study by Ominicom Group’s Cone Communications finding that Gen Y will spend up to 70 percent more on brands that support causes, today’s businesses can’t afford not to get involved.

Afdhel Aziz, co-author of Good Is The New Cool. Market Like You Give A Damn, says there’s been a massive awakening in social consciousness in the past couple years. In his 2017 SXSW session, Good Is The New Cool, he said, “…In a world that’s obsessed with celebrity culture and shallowness, meaningfulness has now started to become really important. Purpose has started to become really important …Brands are starting to think about their place in the world and how they can balance their need to make a profit but also do something positive for their community and…for the planet as well.”

General Mills’s new marketing effort for Cheerios is a perfect example of balancing profit and planet. This spring the company removed its iconic BuzzBee character from Honey Nut Cheerios boxes (a blank silhouette remains) to call attention to the worldwide disappearance of honeybees, which are important plant pollinators. With the social media campaign hashtag #BringBackTheBees, the company created a dedicated landing page on the Cheerios website for visitors to learn about the campaign and to order free wildflower seeds to plant in their own backyards to give bees access to wildflower nectar and pollen. By utilizing cross-marketing channels to increase engagement, the brand is getting the most out of its campaign—which the company hopes will increase sales and the honeybee population.

PPB spoke with a sampling of industry companies that are committed to charitable giving to learn more about their efforts—and to hear about the positive results they see both in the organizations they support and in their own businesses.

From their impassioned responses, it’s clear that doing good really is the new cool. Read on for their inspiring stories and for simple tips on how your company can be a force for doing good.

 

1 BRAND FUEL

Supported charities: In the industry, distributor Brand Fuel supports both PromoKitchen and Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF), both dedicated to education. The company’s commitment to PPEF has been bolstered through helping to create distributor group Reciprocity Road, which also gives back to PPEF.

Outside the industry, Brand Fuel supports whatever cause its team gets most excited about, including Band Together NC, an annual music fundraising event that Danny Rosin, CAS, co-founded on September 11, 2001, which has been a mainstay in the company’s giving program because of its unique model of supporting a different nonprofit annually. Ben Folds headlines this year’s May 6 concert that has raised more than $1 million for a new YMCA facility in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Program structure: Employees receive paid time off for volunteering in the community. They also receive a monthly stipend for wellness, which often includes supporting nonprofits, where the employees, not owners, decide what causes to support. Staffers who are involved or invested in company initiatives often receive added perks, like tickets to a concert. Brand Fuel offers free nonprofit marketing advice and has converted marketing dollars that once went to client end-user shows into support for local causes through volunteer activities with its clients. Of course, the company includes promotional giveaways to complement the sense of community giving.

Q&A With Danny Rosin, CAS, Brand Fuel Co-Owner

What does giving back mean to Brand Fuel?

At Brand Fuel, we believe we can improve the world through promotional products. Robert Fiveash, my business partner, and I call the business of benevolence “BrandGood.” Beyond the positivity that gets connected to our brand, it gives us a shared sense of purpose. That purpose of giving back outside the office is directly tied to morale, culture, friendships, retention, teamwork and generosity in the office. We want to be a force for good in the communities in which we work and play. The most important output? Helping others in need.

What advice do you have for other companies that want to start a charitable giving program?
Let your staff and/or clients decide what is important to them and then join forces with them for good. Leverage our awesome promotional products medium at events as giveaways, for recognition, as donations, etc. Invite your clients to get involved. Distributors and suppliers should find ways to partner. Working together on community needs might be the most genuine relationship-building activity.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?

Witnessing the amazingly powerful discretionary effort from our staff. Through volunteerism, they make deeper connections and gain leadership and organizational skills they might not learn in their day jobs.

2 NIMBLE IMPRESSIONS

Supported charities: Distributor Nimble Impressions supports many different charitable organizations, including the National Parkinson’s Foundation and National Outdoor Leadership School. The company is also motivated by charitable opportunities that randomly come to its attention, such as its experience with an organization called With Purpose, whose mission is to conquer childhood cancer. The organization asked Nimble Impressions for some custom beer tap handles to use at an event where a percentage of beer sales went towards supporting their organization. Nimble Impressions decided to not only donate the tap handles and but also show its support by participating in the event. When there’s an event tied to the giving where employees can all come together as a team and pitch in, more team members want to get involved.

Program structure: In 2016 the company established a philanthropic arm of Nimble Impressions to organize giving efforts named Nimble For Good. With a dedicated brand around this portion of the organization, the company hopes to elevate its charitable aspirations and find more efficient ways of spreading the word to get more people and businesses involved.

Q&A With Alan Haskins, Nimble Impressions President/CEO

What does giving back mean to Nimble Impressions?
It means fulfillment, both personally and professionally. Very few promotional product companies have the opportunity to save lives by selling promo items. In the absence of that component to our business vertical, we feel that charitable giving is the best way to make an impact and hopefully improve lives. I live by the belief that “To whom much is given much is expected.”

What advice do you have for other companies that want to start a charitable giving program?
Parting with profits and time can obviously be a bit of a challenge when a business is just getting its footing. But, as time and resources free up, charitable giving becomes easier to achieve. A great philosophy that I like to live by is: learn it, earn it, return it. We never feel like we give back enough, but that just pushes us to constantly find ways to do better. If you want to start a charitable giving program, you just have to start somewhere. Everyone has charities that they have a personal connection with, so choosing who your beneficiaries are is the easy part. Then you have to establish a realistic and reasonable giving budget and find ways to get people excited about getting involved.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
The amount of gratitude from the organizations that we’ve given to has been overwhelming. Seeing where the dollars and efforts go and the positive difference made in people’s lives makes it all worthwhile.

 

3 ARIEL PREMIUM

Supported charities: Locally, supplier Ariel Premium supports several charities including holiday season toy drives for homeless children through the Sweet Celebrations Organization, and Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure events. On a national level, Ariel is involved with several charities supported by evangelical churches around the country.

Globally, the company has recently become a corporate sponsor for Rainforest Trust, a nonprofit organization that helps buy and protect the world’s tropical forests. In addition to financial support, the company provides other support such as providing gifts for their annual donor meeting, and promoting their work within the promotional products industry.

Rainforest Trust is now at the forefront of many of the company’s charitable causes. It’s also one they can be involved with all year long. As part of Ariel’s Rainforest Trust participation, the company’s owners, Yuhling Lu and Tai Lin, are scheduled to be part of an upcoming conservation tour to either Borneo, South Africa or Brazil to see where the corporate-giving dollars are best being utilized.

Program structure: Within the company, the HR department organizes most of the local charity involvement. Lu spearheads the company’s involvement with Rainforest Trust. In addition to monetary support, the company also provides donor gifts and shares its experiences with others in the promotional industry. Team members get involved primarily through donations of time, money and gifts, volunteering or walking at Komen races, raising funds through sponsors, donating toys, organizing parties for homeless children, and other activities.

Q&A With Christopher Duffy, MAS, Ariel Premium Director of Marketing

What does giving back mean to Ariel Premium?
Getting involved in charitable giving has become an excellent team-building and sharing experience for our associates. It brings our people together with a common goal and to share common experiences and interests. Our programs also provide that extra non-work environment bonding experience for them, getting to know their colleagues in a more social setting.

What advice do you have for other companies that want to start a charitable giving program?

We would highly recommend “adopting” a charitable cause for any company in our industry. Simply pick a cause that’s most interesting to your team (let them select the organization), and watch how they’ll run with it. The feel-good experience pays itself forward in so many ways—through improved camaraderie, attitude and empathy. So many charities are grateful for any support and so you can often choose the level of commitment your team is most comfortable with.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
Our most unexpected outcome has been the higher level of participation that our team has been willing to commit to. When it’s a good cause, it’s simply amazing how much people will step up and get involved.

 

CHARLES RIVER APPAREL

Supported charities: The supplier has partnered with many charities over the years. Some of its long-standing relationships include Christmas in the City, Wellness Warriors, Circle of Hope, Catie’s Closet and Charles River Watershed Association. This year the company has further expanded its philanthropic initiatives with the launch of a new program, Colors for a Cause. This new program leverages the company’s No. 1 selling style, the New Englander®, to help create awareness and raise funds for national and local charities.

Program structure: Charles River Apparel’s mission is to create a community and environment that is passionate about giving back. For the family-owned company, this message starts with owners Deb and Barry Lipsett. The company’s giving program touches the lives of every employee at Charles River Apparel through volunteer opportunities for employees and their families, toy, food and clothing drives, monetary donations and in-kind donations. But the company also understands that employees may want to give back to other organizations outside of the established partnerships.

In 2016, the Employee Volunteer program was created to give employees the opportunity to take a day off work to give back to their charity of choice. Employees are also encouraged to donate a Charles River Family 4 Pack (four Charles River Apparel New Englander® pieces) to a charity of their choosing as an auction or raffle item to raise funds for an organization in need.

Q&A With Deb Lipsett, Charles River Apparel Co-Owner

What does giving back mean to Charles River?
While there are many causes and charities we support, Christmas in the City is an organization that is extremely near and dear to our hearts. This charity stands out because it is a 100-percent volunteer organization that gives homeless children and their families a holiday event that is truly spectacular. Christmas in the City gives the employees a sense of value and allows them to get involved in a variety of ways—from participating in our toy drive, to giving their time over a two-day period in December. In fact, more than 50 percent of our employees are involved during one of our busiest seasons of the year. In addition to contributing $10,000, Charles River Apparel donates 3,000 jackets for homeless families and creates a decorated piece of apparel to incentivize donors who give more than $500.

What advice do you have for other companies that want to start a charitable giving program?
Be open to the idea. It is not about the award or recognition that may come with the opportunity to give. A charitable giving program is about the joy of giving back. It is about the sense of pride employees feel with being associated with a company that looks beyond itself. Find something that you and your team feels strongly about. Having flexibility and variety is key to getting all your employees involved. Charitable giving works best when everyone, from top to bottom, is passionate about the program. Charitable giving doesn’t start and stop with monetary donations. From in-kind donations to flexible volunteer time-off policies, it’s about engagement, being truly present, participating and getting involved.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
The level of engagement and generosity from more than 50 percent of our employees was unexpected but appreciated beyond words. There’s a sense of pride and joy when your team embraces these opportunities, and seeing everyone come together is so rewarding. While employee engagement is important, the most unexpected outcome is that so many of our own customers are embracing the idea of giving back and have asked to partner with us to support the many charities we’ve partnered with over the years. Extending our reach and creating a momentum around “giving back” through our partnerships is unexpected and truly appreciated. As an owner, an employee and a volunteer there truly is no better feeling than giving back to help those in need. The genuine goodness that your heart feels during and especially after is overwhelming. It’s not about what you do, what you make or even what you sell. It is truly about human kindness and giving back.

ePROMOS

Supported charities: Distributor ePromos randomly picks charities that apply to its program, ePromos for Good, which the company created in 2013 as a way to help worthy organizations promote their causes. Past recipients have included Advocates For World Health, Tennessee 4-H, The Scripps Research Institute, Megan Meier Foundation, Icing Smiles, Handsome Dan’s Rescue and many others.

Program structure: Marketing associates handle ePromos for Good. Any 501(c) (3) organization, accredited school or religious organization may apply. Winners get a free consultation with one of ePromos’ senior brand consultants who works with them to select from any of the company’s 15,000-plus items. Every month, ePromos gives away $500 in free promotional products to an organization in need.

The company strives to make a difference by sharing promotional products with organizations that are helping to create a better world. Selected organizations may use the promotional items as they see fit—whether it’s thanking volunteers, recruiting donors, or spreading the word about the organization. If chosen, organizations also get free exposure on ePromos’ social media sites and in its Education Center.

Q&A With Jason Robbins, ePromos CEO

What does giving back mean to ePromos?
There are lots of people in need. For those doing good, we want to do good, too. We believe that promotional products are much more than items imprinted with a logo—they have the power to drive action, inspire change and make a lasting impact. We love giving back; there are so many good causes and their biggest challenge is being heard and raising money for the cause. When we give promo items, we are directly saving them money. We have deep knowledge in how promotional items can be used in the non-profit world and we love helping the winners select great products to promote their causes. Our employees are proud of our program and they also participate in various events we have each quarter where we volunteer time. Those events are great team-building experiences as well and help us all stay grounded and grateful.

What advice do you have for other companies who want to start a charitable giving program?

Do it. It’s great for the soul and great for business culture as well.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
I think our employees like that we are making time for them to give back and it humanizes work and makes our staff feel good about themselves.

 

PROMO DIRECT

Supported charities: Distributor Promo Direct supports Focal Point Ministries, which uses radio broadcasts, podcasts and printed materials to spread the gospel of Christ; Sunshine Kids, a charity that supports kids with cancer; Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, a local charity; St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals; and 3 Square, an organization that provides breakfast and lunches for impoverished school-age children and food for needy families.

Program structure: The company gives to different charities in different ways. For Focal Point, they give time volunteering and donate to their events, such as golf accessories for their annual golf tournament. With Sunshine Kids, the company supports them financially and sponsors their events with bags and t-shirts. Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth has Promo Direct employees bowling in their fundraiser and donating the awards and t-shirts for the event. 3 Square provides opportunities for employees to volunteer at their facilities, to stuff backpacks for kids or pack boxes of food for the needy. With St. Jude’s, Promo Direct works with their staff to supply promotional products for their fundraisers. In addition to providing financial resources and giving of employee time to these charities, the company also donates overruns and product returns.

Q&A With Dave Sarro, Promo Direct President/CEO

What does giving back mean to Promo Direct?
We are always blessed when we bless those less fortunate. Whether we give a financial donation or a couple of hours of our time, we come away with a different perspective on life. We are more thankful for what we have and appreciate our own blessings. It is not difficult to find volunteers to help out at 3 Square for a couple of hours on a Saturday or to participate in a bowling tournament benefitting homeless youth. We have also participated in food drives at holiday times.

What advice do you have for other companies that want to start a charitable giving program?

Giving back should come from the top down. With the support and leadership of management, it should be relatively easy to find a charitable cause or program to support in your local community. Whether it is a financial donation or a Saturday spent volunteering as a team, it is a worthwhile endeavor for the entire company to participate in.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
There is such a sense of pride and accomplishment when one is giving back. Volunteering as a company to those less fortunate not only helps those in need but also builds up our own team, as we work together to provide for the needs of others.

 

SANMAR

Supported charities: Supplier SanMar focuses on supporting charities in the communities where its employees live and work while addressing known issues and challenges. Last year the company’s home office and eight distribution centers worked with charitable organizations to help end homelessness. In the past, they’ve partnered with organizations that provide family services and help combat hunger. SanMar maintains long-standing relationships with some charities but is always on the lookout for other deserving organizations in its local communities.

Program structure: The company makes a point to communicate to all employees in all of its locations about needs in each of its local communities. Then they develop cross-functional committees to solidify plans and then broadly communicate fundraising goals. SanMar takes pride in making it really easy and fun for its employees to give. Fundraising events that employees participate in include chili cook-offs, online auctions, “dress your leader as a superhero” and even tossing rolls of toilet paper from the fifth-floor balcony. The company finds that a little friendly competition among groups and teams at the office helps inspire employee giving.

While the company sought approval from leadership on the charities and timing for fundraising activities, deciding on the fundraising events was really a grassroots effort and employees were empowered to brainstorm with their teams on how to do raise funds for a great cause.

Q&A With Lee Strom, SanMar Vice President of Marketing

What does giving back to this charity mean to SanMar?
Our charitable giving ties back to our SanMar Family Values, including “do the right thing” and “make a difference.” It feels really good to make a positive impact in the communities where we live and work, and it’s important to SanMar to be a good neighbor.

What advice do you have for other companies 
that want to start a charitable giving program?
Put a face to the cause. Last year, a past beneficiary of a youth homeless shelter shared her very personal story. She spoke about how the charity impacted her life and it was truly inspiring. I think it made a huge difference in the success of our two-week fundraising event. And, of course, start planning your events early, engage a hard-working events committee, share your goals and communicate, communicate, communicate.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
The team unity and company-wide sense of pride from giving back. Plus, the opportunity for people who don’t generally cross paths to interact in new and fun ways. We were surprised by the level of giving last year and felt so much love in each building. It was a very special thing to be a part of. And we raised well more than our goal, which was humbling.

 

EDWARDS GARMENT

Supported charities: Supplier Edwards Garment has been working with local nonprofit groups for more than 40 years and regularly supports over a dozen programs that make a positive impact. President and CEO Gary Schultz says, “Our goal is to assist local agencies in our community that impact the lives of youth and family members. We are committed to building and strengthening community bonds in a positive and supportive way. Our core values are built around heritage, compassion and humility which makes community outreach a part of our daily life.”

Program structure: Edwards has a foundation that organizes the funding for its philanthropic giving. However, financial support is only one leg of the Edwards commitment. The company works with local nonprofits to help attain their goals of financial support, social interaction and community engagement. An associate committee at the company meets regularly to review requests from nonprofits and to make recommendations on philanthropic events. Minutes from the meetings are distributed to the management group for review with employees and posted on bulletin boards throughout the company. If Edwards will be participating in a large event, Schultz will make an announcement at one of the monthly meetings he holds with associates.

Q&A With Taraynn Lloyd, Edwards Garment Vice President of Marketing

What does giving back mean to Edwards Garment?
Edwards encourages associates to actively engage with local nonprofits to build that strong community bond. For example, when the Salvation Army asked for garment donations for job seekers, employees responded with a large donation of career apparel. When Big Brothers/Big Sisters asked if Edwards wanted to participate in its bowling fundraisers, Edwards associates put six teams together to help raise funds for their programs. When Communities in Schools inquired if we had associates who could work with children on their reading skills, many Edwards employees stepped up to the challenge.

What advice do you have for other companies that want to start a charitable giving program?
Working with any community group takes time and commitment. Keep in mind that participation doesn’t always mean you need to raise funds for the local nonprofit. Many times just getting involved is all that is required.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
Words can’t express the joy on people’s faces when they are committed to a cause that strengthens our youth, families and our community. It is infectious.

 

HANES/CHAMPION

Supported charities: Hanes for Good is HanesBrands’ corporate social responsibility program focused on environmental stewardship, workplace quality and community building. Under Hanes for Good, supplier Hanes has two primary charitable giving programs: The Hanes Sock Drive, a national program through which Hanes has donated more than 1.9 million socks to the Salvation Army since the program started in 2009, and Hanes4Education, a program that is exclusive to the decorated apparel industry. Additionally, in 2016 HanesBrands and its employees raised $2.4 million for United Way of Forsyth County, North Carolina, and surrounding communities, as well as donating food items and volunteer hours to community agencies as part of its award-winning campaign.

United Way of North Carolina awarded Hanes with its Spirit of North Carolina Award for campaign excellence, the fourth consecutive Spirit Award and ninth total earned by Hanes and its employees. Hanes and its employees have given more than $39 million since 1999 to help fund an array of services in Forsyth County.

Program structure: In 2016, Hanes expanded the Hanes Sock Drive effort by coordinating the collection of new socks at 160 HanesBrands Outlet stores nationwide. Store employees distributed the donated socks to local nonprofit organizations. As part of the company’s campaign, employees also donated 10,500 nonperishable food items and $11,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest N.C., one of United Way’s partners.

As part of a Day of Caring, more than 400 headquarters employees volunteered at 13 local community agencies. Employee volunteers contributed thousands of volunteer hours performing various tasks at the agencies including landscaping, painting, administrative duties and more.

Hanes4Education allows screen-print suppliers and their customers to support K-12 schools through a unique cash-rebate offer where schools can earn cash with every purchase of Hanes and Champion products. Schools can earn 10 cents for each Hanes® or Champion® printed apparel item ordered through suppliers, with checks going directly to the K-12 school designated by the customer. Hanes has donated more than $1 million to schools since starting the Hanes4Education program in 2011.

Q&A With Rachel Newman, Hanes/Champion Director of Sales and Marketing

What does giving back to this charity mean to your company?
Especially in cold weather, access to clean, dry socks can, at the minimum, protect from misery, and at the most save lives. It’s  a daily reminder that a small donation or kindness can make a big difference. As a cash rebate program, it is easy to see how Hanes4Education benefits local schools. It’s a simple and direct way to support K-12 schools in our employees’ communities at a time when schools are very much in need. Many employees use the United Way campaign to develop connections with local nonprofits and continue to volunteer and support them long after the United Way campaign is over. It’s important to us that we can improve and enrich the communities where we live and with which we are involved.

What advice do you have for other companies that want to start a charitable giving program?
With both the Hanes Sock Drive and Hanes4Education, we framed our programs around our core products—they are not peripheral programs but are aligned with what we do every day. If a program is not directly connected to what you do and who you are, you run the risk of losing momentum. Also, with Hanes4Education, we made sure that there is absolutely no work for the supplier other than ensuring that the invoice they provide the customer specifies that Hanes products were purchased. We wanted to make it easy for customers to participate and remove any barriers to helping schools.

What has been the most unexpected result of your company’s giving program?
It’s amazing how quickly a 10-cent rebate can add up to real money that makes an impact on schools. It’s energizing to know that every sale you make has the potential to help a school.


Four Simple Ways Any Organization Can Give Back

Coordinate charitable donations.
Take up a regular donation for a local charity or other community organization. From providing a collection box where customers can donate money, food or clothing items, to adding a donation opportunity on the customer’s invoice, make it easy for your customers to share in charitable donations. One note: if you are asking customers for donations, make sure your company is contributing donations as well.

Become a sponsor.
Give back to the community by sponsoring a 5K run, a youth sports team, local holiday parade or other community event. It’s a great way to support your community and has the added benefit of providing advertising and exposure for your business.

Donate products or services.
If you have extra promotional items such as apparel or school supplies in your inventory or as showroom samples, donate them to a community shelter or school. The Kids In Need foundation is a great option and one that PPAI partners with regularly. Find out more at www.kinf.org.

Mentor job-seekers.
Offer a mentoring or job skills training program during the holiday season, or provide part-time job opportunities to those who need extra income. It’s a great way to provide on-the-job training so that those in need can acquire new skills.


Three Tips For Starting A Giving Program

1 Start In The C-Suite
A genuine commitment from the C-suite and active involvement toward pursuit of the desired outcomes is key for successful workplace-giving programs. Identify an executive team member who is excited and committed to the cause. The person’s enthusiasm will be transferred throughout the organization, and this visible support gives employees the “permission” to dedicate their time and dollars as well.

2 Empower Employee Choice
Enabling and encouraging employees to easily and conveniently donate to the causes they care about (not just the causes you choose for them) is a clear best practice  for workplace giving programs. Giving is personal, and different people have different causes. Most people today—especially younger ones—don’t want someone else deciding where their money goes.

3 Align Causes With Company Values
Give choices but create a bias to corporate-supported charities through matching. Choose community causes that:
• Align causes with corporate goals and pillars
• Support general cause areas that resonate with most employees, such as education, health or the environment
• Provide assistance in times of crisis, such as supporting local food banks during times of need, hospitals, American Red Cross, etc.
Source: Jana Taylor, Benevity, www.benevity.org

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