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Employees need a role in company support for charities

Helping communities become great places to live and work starts with good neighbors working together for common causes. Since 1916, Wegmans has been giving back to every neighborhood where we do business, empowering our stores to invest in the success of their individual neighborhoods, because that’s where our employees and customers live. 

For Wegmans, giving back starts with setting priorities to ensure that giving reflects the company’s values. As you might expect, many of Wegmans’ efforts involve food; it is what we are known for. Our support for food banks amounted to more than 16 million pounds of food in 2008. Local support of Foodlink reaches more than 550 agencies that combat hunger in our community. 

Wegmans employees are a critical part of our charitable efforts. The scanning campaigns such as Check Out Hunger-fundraisers that let customers make donations at the checkout counter-have a broad reach and forceful message. Employees are empowered to lead this effort, and because of their work, last year the Check Out Hunger campaign raised more than $2 million companywide for the first time. 

Our employees also participate in United Way Day of Caring projects, and Colleen Wegman will head the annual campaign in 2010. 

No matter their industry, size or location, most companies at some point are asked to make a charitable contribution or support a cause. We believe that the best way to improve the lives of customers and employees is to focus our giving in areas where we have some experience or expertise: food for the hungry, healthy eating and activity, neighborhoods, young people and the United Way. These also line up with our company’s values of making a difference, empowerment, respect, caring and setting high standards. 

What makes Wegmans successful in responding to specific needs is our two-pronged approach: Requests to support programs that will affect an entire county or region are considered by a cross-functional committee that is managed at the corporate level but includes store managers. Individual stores are empowered to make decisions about requests that affect their immediate neighborhoods. This approach can work for any company with multiple facilities. 

Even before we open a store in a new market, we talk to community leaders to understand the needs of the area. This is less about introducing Wegmans than about learning how that community works. What is important to the neighborhood? Are there specific community needs that might fit with Wegmans’ priority giving areas? It is remarkable how important the listening process can be, and any company can benefit from it. 

Wegmans’ model for charitable giving involves listening, empowering and implementing. It includes training store managers on how best to support community organizations, with coaching and clear budget guidelines so they are empowered to choose where their store dollars go. By decentralizing the neighborhood giving decisions, Wegmans is able to reach more people, more effectively. 

With a strong motivation to help others and a commitment to caring, Wegmans has developed an effective approach to giving, empowering individual stores to take the lead. 

Linda Lovejoy is community relations manager for Wegmans Food Markets Inc. Great Workplaces is a monthly column authored by executives from companies honored as best places to work.

 

08/28/09 (C) Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303.

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