Individuals are often looking to give back to their community, and several Rochester-area companies say assisting employees in giving back and facilitating company-wide fundraising efforts is not only the right thing to do to improve local communities but the activities can also assist with team building and help attract and retain talent.
Many employees and customers seek out companies that aim to make a difference in their local communities by donating money, volunteer hours and skills to nonprofits that improve the lives of individuals in the community. Rochester has a strong history of philanthropic giving that dates back at least to the early 20th century, and the tradition continues into the present with companies and employees volunteering their time in addition to doling out funds to local nonprofits and educational institutions.
“I just find that this community is indeed very, very special,” said Dixon Schwabl CEO Lauren Dixon. “You don’t find philanthropic giving to be as robust in other communities as it is here in Rochester.”
Rochester-based Dixon Schwabl—an integrated marketing company representing more than 100 companies in various industries—focuses on giving back to the community alongside its public relations and marketing offerings to clients. Over the past year, the agency and its employees have donated $1.2 million in pro bono services and sponsorship money to various organizations.
“One of the things that is definitely in our DNA here at Dixon Schwable is giving back to the community,” Dixon said. “It’s one of our core values and we take it very seriously.”
Vice President of Agency Nonprofit Services Nadine General said charitable giving is part of the everyday culture at Dixon Schwabl and an essential element of the brand. She said if there’s something “near and dear” to an employee’s heart, the company is willing to step in and get involved.
“Each one of us has our something—something that we’re really passionate about—so that’s really how we make our decisions,” Dixon said of how the agency decides which organization to support.
There’s a range of giving back at Dixon Schwabl, from donating time and money to one of the company’s most recent initiatives to collect coats, mittens, hats, boots and other items for a Bundle Up Rochester campaign.
Dixon said many years ago the company implemented a “we can make it happen day,” in which employees can provide community service and be paid for the day. Giving back to the community is also important from an employee morale and satisfaction perspective, according to Dixon.
“People want to work for a company that gives back to the community,” she said. “If you spend a whole day at Habitat for Humanity building a house with your team members, you feel like a million bucks and like you’ve made a difference.”
More than ever, people are mindful of supporting businesses that align with their world view, whether it’s environmental sustainability or charitable causes, and millennials entering the workforce are often placing the same scrutiny on prospective employers.
“It’s important for every generation, but it’s particularly important for millennials,” Dixon said of working for a company that gives back, adding it’s critically important in retaining employees.
Dixon Schwabl also values employees who are willing to give back to the community, Dixon said, noting it’s “critically important” to the agency that employees want to be involved in the community.
Dixon said one unique feature of the agency is a team of interns each quarter that works with a nonprofit organization. This semester, a team of interns plans to work with the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program with Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack, which Dixon said is in need of raising money and awareness.
“It’s a win-win for the interns, for the nonprofit and the agency,” Dixon said.
With more than 15,000 employees across more than 100 locations in the U.S., Rochester-based Paychex engages with communities across the country, but especially in the Rochester community where the company started more than 45 years ago. The Rochester philanthropic community is strong, said Carlos Cong, senior manager of enterprise technology services, with many local companies focusing heavily on giving back.
“It is a culture here,” Cong said of the Rochester community’s focus on giving back. “It’s definitely showing up in schools and various neighborhoods—you see the outcome of some of that and it’s been powerful.”
Cong said Paychex is ingrained in the community and puts significant emphasis on community service. He said the company has many internal campaigns in which employees are encouraged to donate to organizations, and each employee at Paychex is encouraged to use eight hours of paid community service time each year.
“In terms of community service, Paychex puts a lot of emphasis on that,” Cong said.
In addition to encouraging employees to give back to the community, the Paychex Charitable Foundation provides grants to organizations that are supported by employees. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year, Cong said a team of Paychex employees rallied to raise money to rebuild and the foundation stepped in and donated additional dollars.
Cong said the company feels it’s important to give back to the community because it’s the area the company and many of its employees call home.
“We want to see families and businesses thrive around us,” Cong said. “And when you think about it holistically it helps everyone. There’s just a fundamental core belief and it’s part of our values to give back with community service.”
While the fundraising and volunteerism benefit the nonprofit organizations, officials say the efforts also help out the companies and individuals spearheading them.
“I think it means a lot to the people at Paychex that the company cares so much about the community,” Cong said, noting it helps with “employee morale, satisfaction and retention.”
Rochester-based ESL Federal Credit Union has a similar approach to their work, and Senior Vice President/Director of Human Resources and Community Impact Maureen Wolfe says the credit union has developed a unique culture of giving back that has helped earn the distinction of being named a great place to work several times in recent years.
“In order to ensure that we have a superior customer experience, we really feel that we have to have a superior employee experience,” Wolfe said, noting part of that employee experience revolves around team building and bonding efforts that center on giving back to the community.
ESL donated $4 million to various nonprofits last year, but Wolfe said it’s equally important to donate time. The credit union also has a volunteer program that offers employees eight hours of paid time throughout the year to give back to the community.
Wolfe said ESL’s employee volunteer program has four main objectives: to help the community, increase the spirit of volunteerism at ESL, enhance employee comradery, and have fun in the workplace.
“We think it’s a great opportunity to enhance employee comradery and pride,” Wolfe said of volunteer work. “And it’s fun in the work place.”
Wolfe said the volunteer and philanthropic efforts are important not only to assist in building and maintaining a strong community, but also to provide employees with an opportunity to feel engaged in the community.
“We all live and work here,” she said. “So we want to invest in our community locally and we think it’s really important to do that. We think it increases pride and we want people to be proud of ESL and where they work.”
Over the years, Wolfe said ESL has come to understand the culture of giving and the volunteer program has helped contribute to an “exceptionally low turnover rate” within the company. She said employees enjoy being part of a workplace and company that is focused on giving back.
Wolfe said ESL seeks to make fundraisers a fun endeavor, and the credit union holds events like ice cream socials, BINGO games and other activities.
ESL has set some aggressive goals in giving back, Wolfe said, noting the credit union is seeking to have 80 percent of employees use all of their eight hours of paid volunteer time. She said ESL has encouraged managers to remind employees and help facilitate volunteer efforts as part of their work.
ESL launched the employee volunteer program five years ago and last year employees utilized the program more than any of the previous years.
“The popularity of volunteering during the holidays has helped make 2018 our highest-ever for employee participation at ESL, with more than 2,000 hours going back into our community,” Wolfe said.
Matthew Reitz is a Rochester-area freelance writer.