The millennial generation is making its way into the workforce at a rapid pace and Gen Z is hot on its heels. Born between 1980 and 2010, these individuals want a lot more of out their employers and work experiences than any previous generation has asked for. One of their common hot buttons is charitable giving. Be it through donations, volunteering, or some other act of kindness, young employees want to know that the firms they work for not only support their individual, charitable goals—but that the companies themselves are also doing what they can to help.
“Millennials are more likely than Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers to say it matters if American businesses give back to society,” according to Fortune, which in a 2016 survey found that nearly two-thirds of people between the ages of 18 and 34 were at least somewhat more likely to want to work for a company that gave to charity than one that did not.
“That compares with 59% of those between 35 and 44 years old, and 47% of people between 45 and 64 years old. Young people were also more inclined than their elders to say they would buy products from a company that contributes to charity, or to recommend the business to a friend,” Fortune reports.
Gen Z pretty much feels the same way, only stronger. “For employers, your commitment to diversity, company values, and a larger mission will stand out to prospective Gen Z employees,” Rachel Waitt writes in What does the Generation Z workforce want from employers? “They are the most diverse population to date, and they’ve grown up with diverse peers and families; it’s not surprising that they’d expect the same in the workplace. When making a purchase, Gen Z’ers are attracted to mission driven brands, and they’d like to work for them, too.”
Acts of Kindness Count the Most
Electrical distributor Jo-Kell Inc., of Chesapeake, Va., has spent the last 25 years honing a well-thought-out approach to charitable giving and volunteerism, both of which may help the company get a leg up in the tight labor market. Suzy Kelly, CEO, says it all started with a Christmas decorating contest back in 1992. “Every department had to decorate, and the winners got some prize money plus bragging rights for the entire year,” says Kelly.
With the contest deadline quickly approaching, Jo-Kell’s inside sales department got so busy that it was unable to participate. The day before the judging was to take place, one outside sales rep suggested they take a trip over to the local mall where the Marines were holding their Toys for Tots drive in front of a toy store. “They bought a bunch of toys, loaded up the Toys for Tots bins, and took pictures of everything,” recalls Kelly. “Then, they came back and decorated the inside sales department with all of those photos.”
That year, inside sales won the contest. “Even though my accounting department had built an entire gingerbread village out of their cubicles, and another department featured a live manger scene,” Kelly recalls, “the inside sales team’s community outreach won hands-down.”
That random act of kindness on the part of an extremely busy sales team would come to shape Jo-Kell’s commitment to “giving back,” to the point where all departments would focus their decorating efforts on some type of outreach. “That’s when our employees started really thinking about this, and about how are were going to top one other on outreach,” says Kelly. “That truly catapulted our company as a whole to starting thinking that way.”
Ahead of the Curve
To say Jo-Kell was ahead of the “giving back” curve would be an understatement. It’s been running an Employee Appreciation Day for decades, complete with raffle tickets that workers would collect and then use to win prizes.
The company later tied those raffle tickets to food donations. “When they donated food, we gave them raffle tickets,” says Kelly. Always held on November 11 (Veteran’s Day), the distributor’s Employee Appreciation Day is up to about 120 prizes and about 6,000 pounds of food every year.
“Every day we have a line of people streaming through our warehouse, filling up our food bins,” says Kelly. “Participation is so high that we only let them bring in up to six cans of food a day; they can’t bring in a ton at once.”
Kelly says this simple-yet-impactful fundraiser, done on an annual basis, gets people in the habit of donating, and also lets them see how others are also participating. “Our employees have all been inspired to donate,” says Kelly, “and the food bank here just loves our efforts.”
If It’s Important, You’ll Find a Way to Do it
Jo-Kell’s charitable efforts aren’t limited to the space between its own walls. In 2010, for example, it launched Chesapeake Can Do, a program designed to collect food for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and its local food pantries. “We invite businesses, religious organizations, schools, service clubs, and others to participate in a food drive during the month of October,” says Kelly, “in a display of our unity of purpose for this worthwhile cause.”
Through Chesapeake Can Do, participating organizations are encouraged to design/adapt their own programs with a common goal of collecting nutritious non-perishable food to supply local food banks and food pantries. “It’s a way for other companies and organizations to do their own food drives,” says Kelly, “and it gives them the marketing information they need to be able to do that.”
Kelly, who is a Chesapeake City Council member and the recently-elected chair of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, says electrical distributors and their leaders (and employees) are perfectly positioned to “give back” to the communities where they operate. “At the end of the day, people want more than just a paycheck; they want to feel like they’ve made a difference,” says Kelly. “When you can help them do that, it brings with it loyalty, and the knowledge that company ownership and management are working together for a bigger goal.”
To the manager or owner who is already strapped for time and not sure how to fit these additional responsibilities into their day, Kelly says, “We all have the same number of hours in a day, but it’s what you do with them that makes the difference. If it’s important, you’ll find a way to do it.”
Tagged with charity, giving back