Sarah Ford | September 16, 2014

CH2M HILL Engages Employees in Giving Through Skills and Action

By Sarah Ford

For 85% of employers surveyed in America’s Charities 2013 Snapshot Report, keeping workplace giving campaigns fresh and vibrant is a challenge.  More than ever, employee expectations of engagement programs have extended beyond matching gift programs and expanded opportunities to give throughout the year to any charity.  Employees also want the opportunity to be more directly connected with charities, and they want to join colleagues in doing good inside and outside the walls of the workplace.

At the same time, companies are more strategic than ever about their approach to philanthropy.  Looking to engage employees while maximizing their impact, companies are starting to target their resources where they can do the most good by focusing on a handful of causes that best align with their talents.

As a result, employers are now devising overall giving strategies that focus on specific causes and encourage year-round giving, volunteerism, skills-based pro bono services and engagement.

One such example is CH2M HILL, a global leader in engineering with 26,000 employees on six continents.  In 2012, CH2M HILL decided to take a step back and revisit its giving strategies.  As a result, the CH2M HILL Foundation, which CH2M HILL uses to manage its charitable giving, was relaunched in 2013 with a new board and a more focused mission.

On a mission to support global organizations in its operating countries that develop sustainable communities and inspire the next generation of socially and environmentally responsible leaders, CH2M HILL decided to focus on the following three areas of giving:

  1. Environmental stewardship;
  2. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education; and
  3. Employee engagement.

Environmental stewardship and STEM make sense for an engineering company like CH2M HILL, but what caught our attention was their focus on employee engagement.  “We know with empirical evidence that when our employees have the opportunity to share both their skills sets and their passion for helping others, they generate pride in themselves and in their employer,” says Ellen Sandberg, Executive Director, CH2M HILL Foundation, and Vice President, Community Investment.

Giving Through Action

For most companies, employee engagement is an outcome the company hopes to achieve as a result of its work.  For CH2M HILL, employee engagement is more of a means to achieving that result.

Service has been part of CH2M HILL’s culture since its founding in 1946 and one way employees of CH2M HILL are encouraged to put their passion for giving into action is through CH2M HILL Foundation’s Employee Action Grants and Community Grants programs.

Through the Employee Action Grants program, employees can volunteer with charities they are passionate about in their local community.  If employees actively volunteer at least 40 hours per year, the CH2M HILL Foundation makes financial donations to those charities ranging between USD$500 to $1,000 depending on the hours of service contributed. In 2013, CH2M HILL donated more than $130,000 to charities through this program, with 20% of the grants supporting charities outside the United States.  From coaching youth sports in Canada to mentoring high school students in Arizona to guiding scouts in England to volunteering at an animal shelter in Florida, 141 organizations benefited from time and talent contributed by CH2M HILL’s employees.

Similarly, CH2M HILL Foundation’s Community Grants program gives employees the opportunity to use their technical skills to better the world, but the Community Grants specifically support the work of its strategic partners Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and Water For People.  In 2013, the CH2M HILL Foundation provided grants totaling nearly $30,000 to employees from the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Italy traveling with Water For People’s World Water Corps supporting projects in Bolivia, India, Malawi and Rwanda.

This past summer, in partnership with the not-for-profit organization, Bridges to Prosperity, the CH2M HILL Foundation sent a team of 11 employee volunteers from its Anchorage, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Calgary, Toronto, Dubai, London and Sydney office locations, to construct a pedestrian suspension bridge connecting the communities of La Conga and La Florida in Panama. The completed bridge will serve approximately 200 people, enabling them to safely cross the Rio Trinidad to reach the nearby municipal town of Capira. Bridges to Prosperity has found that building a footbridge leads to an 18% increase in women employed, a 24% increase in healthcare treatment and 12% more children enrolled in school.

Reece Bishop, a civil engineer in CH2M HILL’s Calgary office, was selected to be project manager for the Bridges to Prosperity project. “This project was not like most projects we work on at CH2MHILL, in the office or in the field. For all of us involved, this project stands by itself as being a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. On top of all of this, I experienced being a project manager (PM) for the first time, and I couldn’t think of a better project to get my feet wet,” stated Bishop in a post he contributed to CH2M HILL’s blog after returning from the weeklong project.

Bishop wasn’t the only team member who gained skills from the Bridge to Prosperity Panama project.  After returning from the project, the CH2M HILL team completed a survey, and the results (like question #13 shown below) revealed just how beneficial the Panama experience was for the team.

CH2M HILL Engages Employees in Giving Through Skills and Action

But it isn’t just a chance to apply and develop expertise that these employees received from this opportunity. Prior to departing for Panama, Blake Scott, a Global Finance employee, wrote in the company’s blog, “This is truly a dynamic team of skilled volunteers and not only will we be making a positive and long lasting impact on the community of La Conga, we will be engaging with one another under the toils of hard work to foster better, stronger relationships with our fellow colleagues from around the globe.”

Engaging employees at one business office is hard enough, but try unifying and engaging 26,000 employees from offices spread across 6 continents.  That’s downright challenging.  CH2M HILL’s Community Grants program unifies employees from completely different backgrounds, cultures and countries.  It brings together a Global Finance professional from the U.S. with a Project Manager, Safety Coordinator and engineers of many disciplines from different countries – each part of a project that will completely transform a community in need of the collective skills and expertise, which CH2M HILL employees have to offer.

The Business Case for Employee-Volunteering and Pro Bono

More and more Americans are volunteering, as people become more passionate about civic engagement and making a difference in their communities. This is particularly true for Baby Boomers and Millennials, who are most active in service.  Corporate volunteer programs are a great way for companies to retain and recruit these employees, while creating a more engaged corporate culture overall.  A 2004 Lloyd Morgan survey of 50,000 employees showed that by increasing employees’ engagement levels, organizations can expect an 87% reduction in employees’ probability of departure. 

This surge in interest in volunteerism coincides with the dire need many nonprofits have for support.  In fact, a corporate grant is one of the most highly valued aspects of a corporate philanthropic program, according to 90% of respondents in America’s Charities 2014 Snapshot Report, with more than 51% of respondents placing significant value on the grants they receive from companies in support of employee-volunteers.

CH2M HILL employees are passionate both within their career and with giving back to their communities.  Through its grant programs, CH2M HILL supports those passions, while also supporting the needs of its nonprofit partners. CH2M HILL is a very large company, but even small businesses with one office location in one community can follow CH2M HILL’s lead.  As stated by Sandberg, “At CH2M HILL we are fortunate to count on thousands of pairs of helping hands. But to make a positive difference, all it takes is one hand to raise up and offer your time and talent.”

How Can Your Company Create a Similar Program?

Here are some pointers to get you started:

  1. Design a program that aligns with your company’s culture, its business & community goals.
    • What are your company’s business and community goals?
    • What unique skills do your employees possess?
    • Are you in a position to offer paid time off for volunteering or are there other incentives you can provide employees?
    • Would you like your volunteer program to be on an ongoing basis or within a defined timeframe during the year?
    • How much time and resources do you have to manage the program?
  2. Identify nonprofits that might be a good fit with your company’s goals.
    • Ask the nonprofit about their programs and strategic plan. Does the nonprofit have a particular program that is underfunded, where your employee’s skills could help?
  3. Manage the program to ensure a great experience for you, your employees and nonprofit partners.
    • How will you promote and build interest in your program?
    • How will you know if the program is successful?  Before launching the program make sure you identify key metrics with which to evaluate the program’s success both from your business’s perspective and from that of your employees and nonprofit partner.

Our thanks to Ellen Sandberg for her insights and for allowing us to feature CH2M HILL’s corporate philanthropy and employee engagement programs.  We only grazed the tip of what CH2M HILL is up to. To learn more about the charities with which they’re involved and to read more about their employee engagement programs, click here.

For more information on employee-volunteering and corporate-nonprofit partnerships, visit the Knowledge Center on our website.  We’re constantly updating the page with new research and resources. You can also reach out to our team at America’s Charities for advice and help getting your corporate philanthropy program started.  Whether you are brand new to corporate giving or would like to revisit your giving strategy like CH2M HILL did, our team has been in the business of helping companies and their employees help charities for over 30 years.  Click here to contact us with your questions, needs and interests.

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