Why Companies That Give Back Also Receive

Bank of America employee Daniel Sciortino saw his investment in community service pay off recently.

Several times a month, Sciortino volunteers as a teacher of financial literacy classes to low-income residents in the Phoenix area. One of his students had been coming to one of his classes for about a year, and came up to him after class several weeks ago. The woman said she’d been inspired by his lessons to reorganize her finances and launch a photography business. She was excited about her first wedding assignment, and she told Sciortino she hoped the new venture would allow her kids to escape poverty.

“She’s really taken everything I’ve taught her, and started her own business to be able to break that cycle for her family,” said Sciortino, a 29-year-old who works as a client services team manager at Bank of America (BAC). The student’s comment not only represented great news for her, but for Sciortino too. “That was probably the highest point of my life—hearing that I’ve really actually changed someone’s future and their children’s future.”

Sciortino’s story of patient generosity coming to fruition mirrors a larger story about Bank of America and other companies that stand out as the 2018 Best Workplaces for Giving Back. My organization, research and consulting firm Great Place to Work, just published the list of these vanguards of volunteering in partnership with Fortune. And a key lesson from them is that it is in giving that we receive—and richly so. Charitable, philanthropic efforts on the part of employees and employers result in workplaces that are better for business, better for the people who work there and better for the world.

For example, our study of several hundred companies and more than 380,000 employees in conjunction with this list revealed that giving back is associated with greater employee retention, higher levels of brand ambassadorship on the part of workers and more enthusiastic employees. Staffers who believe their organizations give back to the community are a striking 13 times more likely to look forward to coming to work, compared to employees who do not perceive their employers to be generous toward the community.

The winners on the Best Workplaces for Giving Back aren’t just big-hearted. They are inclusive. Companies earned a spot on the ranking in part based on the level of their charitable giving. But winners also were selected for how consistently employees feel a sense of pride in their organizations’ community involvement across job levels, tenure and demographic categories such as age, race and gender.

These companies do more than simply cut big checks from corporate headquarters. They’ve also designed programs that really connect their people to the philanthropy.

The Best Workplaces for Giving Back are part of a broader family of companies that are seeking to create Great Places to Work For All—that is, for all employees regardless of who they are or what they do. In our forthcoming book on these emerging organizations, we note that Great Places to Work For All throughout the globe tend to extend a spirit of generosity beyond their walls.

To see that spirit in action, look closer at Daniel’s employer and one of the Best Workplaces for Giving Back, Bank of America. The financial services titan also shows the way giving back is as much an investment as a donation of time, energy and dollars.

Bank of America’s community service and charitable giving is impressive in raw numbers. It donated nearly $200 million in the past year to various causes and organizations, including $30 million in matching contributions to employee charitable gifts. Bank of America’s 200,000 employees worldwide also logged nearly 2 million hours in volunteer service last year. That’s double the amount from 2010, and the percentage of employees who volunteer is 26 percent and climbing, says Kerry Sullivan, president of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. The numbers are on the rise in part because of a bountiful amount of hours that employees can volunteer while still getting paid by the bank. With manager approval, all Bank of America staffers can volunteer for a good cause up to two hours a week.

Sullivan also points to a new mobile-friendly tool the Bank rolled out earlier this year, which makes it easy for employees to track their volunteer hours, set volunteering goals and learn about opportunities to serve the community through a calendar of such events.

Much of Bank of America’s charitable work focuses on economic mobility, which includes helping people with their personal finances. That relates to the company’s mission to improve people’s financial lives, Sullivan says.

“It’s how we live our purpose,” she says.

Still, Bank of America in recent years has responded to employee feedback seeking flexibility in philanthropy, and encouraged staffers to choose their own ways of giving back. No wonder that the number of non-governmental organizations assisted by the bank has grown to some 27,000.

All the giving comes with advantages, Sullivan notes. Strengthening low-income communities through numerous nonprofit partnerships and improved financial literacy skills leads to a healthier business climate. “We’re looking at long-term solutions, not just band-aids,” Sullivan says. “If we can help create strong, sustainable communities, it will ultimately strengthen our business too.”

And leading the way in the realm of community service boosts the bank’s reputation as a great place to work. Sullivan has two millennial daughters, and notices the importance their generation places on good corporate citizenship. “They want to know, ‘What does this company stand for?’” she says. “They want to know that the company is noble.”

That’s exactly what Daniel Sciortino wanted to know when he was searching for a new job four years ago. Having already developed a commitment to serving disadvantaged communities in the Phoenix area, Sciortino was struck by Bank of America’s 2-hours-a-week volunteer option and policy of matching employee donations up to $5,000 annually. Sciortino donates his time not just in the financial literacy class mentioned earlier, but in a wide range of community groups and charitable events. He has upped his personal volunteer hours from about 500 in 2015 to just over 800 last year. And he now leads a committee overseeing Bank of America’s volunteer activities in the region.

For him, a workplace that encourages giving back is better for everyone—including those who’ll follow in our footsteps.

“It’s the ripple effect,” Sciortino says. “My assistance helps people in the community, and they’ll help generations going forward.”

Ed Frauenheim is Director of Research and Content at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces list, including the Best Workplaces for Giving Back. Frauenheim also is co-author of the forthcoming book, A Great Place to Work For All.

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