This article originally appeared in Communitech Columns and is republished with permission. Author, Kayleigh Platz, is a storyteller and community relations manager for Communitech. Born, raised and schooled in Waterloo Region, she holds two degrees from the University of Waterloo and is interested in new media, social networks and making connections.
It’s that awful time of the year. Holiday bills are due. The February deep freeze has settled in. RRSP contributions need to be topped up.
I’m sure Joseph Fung, vice-president, human capital management products at NetSuite, thinks about these issues. But he also remembers the afternoon his team took off recently to spend time at the Waterloo Region Food Bank.
Like taxes, giving is a constant in Fung’s life.
He learned about giving at a very young age.
“My parents were always participatory,” he said. “I’ve always been really involved as a volunteer, a donor and just as a contributor in the community because I think it’s really important.”
He also credits Leadership Waterloo Region for helping him build connections and learn where the greatest needs are in the community.
Today, Fung is deeply involved in his community; but he is also working to ensure that his team, now at NetSuite, continues to be as involved as they used to be before acquisition.
The former TribeHR office has doubled in the last year, and Fung has seen the team’s philanthropic efforts more than double.
He credits NetSuite, a California-based customer relations and business operation management software company, with expanding the efforts. NetSuite bought TribeHR in 2013.
“What’s been nice since the acquisition is that NetSuite has also been really supportive and committed to philanthropy,” Fung said.
Fung’s team sees volunteer activities as a team-building exercise, and as part of the office culture. NetSuite’s mandate co-aligns with that, and is built around the idea of using a team’s most critical assets to have positive impact.
A company’s most critical assets are, of course, people and product. NetSuite offers every non-profit a discounted rate, and the company donates software and training to organizations in need.
And NetSuite also wants its staff to be involved. With a team of more than 3,300 worldwide, NetSuite doesn’t run corporate-headed philanthropic endeavors. Each office has its own NetSuite Suite Impact Team (SIT). The SITs are volunteer-run groups that function like corporate social committees, except the outcome is focused on giving back to the community. Each SIT receives an annual budget, but works with the entire office to determine how it’s spent.
Fung notes that some of the more established NetSuite offices have clear areas of charitable focus. For now, the Kitchener office supports a variety of initiatives, including Ladies Learning Code, the Santa Clause Parade and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
“We have a group going to the food bank this week,” Fung said. “We do some sort of drive or initiative, whether that is a clothing drive or a food drive, monthly. And we fold it into our regular events; so, for example, when we hosted our Christmas event, we also did a clothing drive. It becomes part of what we do.”
An outcome? Staff make friends and connections within a workplace. Fung has noticed that his friends and colleagues have begun to organize events and activities on their own that support their passions.
NetSuite also supports Kiva, a micro-loan program. As part of the on-boarding process for new team members, Fung encourages staff to sign up. Anyone who does gets $25 from Fung to lend. He sees it as an easy way for staff to get used to giving, and to learn how good it can feel.
Fung also firmly believes in giving his staff paid time to volunteer. He’s had a paid-time volunteering policy at his companies for the last decade. When he was researching NetSuite as part of the acquisition process, he noted that people get two days off a month to give their time somewhere else.
Fung doesn’t see this as an impediment to company success. He believes it’s key to keeping a healthy corporation in touch with its local base. Staff can take that paid time to volunteer at a church, a charity, a museum or even coach their child’s soccer team.
Fung wants to see other startups build giving into their work culture.
“When you are busy building your business, you think you don’t have time for anything else,” he said. “And you’re taught to ruthlessly prioritize. But you aren’t taught to issue donations and volunteerism. You are taught to ruthlessly prioritize.”
“And if your community is important, then it should be a priority. Which means you’re deciding you don’t have time, which is a pretty poor excuse, in my opinion.”
Fung says the easiest way to begin is to listen to your staff and piggyback off of what they’re interested in. For example, you can make it a policy that if someone makes a donation somewhere, you can match it up to a certain value.
There’s no effort. It’s an easy way to start. Then, as he notes, it becomes not a matter of whether you’ll give, but how much.
The second step is to tack on a donation component to your social events; the third is to up the value of the donation.
Workplace philanthropy also pays off in higher energy and job satisfaction. Fung sees his staff speaking out more in meetings, offering leadership and advice to colleagues and friends and offering ideas that don’t always support the bottom line but that improve morale and engagement.
“We’ve attracted a team who have been interested in founding and supporting community initiatives,” Fung said.
“By encouraging an environment of volunteerism and philanthropy, you are telling people that the stuff that matters to you personally matters to us as a company. And that’s really meaningful.”
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