During the holidays, many of us try to find time between bites of turkey and pumpkin pie to spend a few hours at a soup kitchen or dig a little deeper into our pockets for a favorite charity.  Companies also look to the holidays as a time to assess their corporate giving and bolster philanthropic efforts.  Whether through sponsorship of a food or toy drive, a company day of service, or developing seasonal products that support a cause [like Gap’s (Product)RED line], companies capitalize on the spirit of the season to do some good and get a boost in their sales or reputation in return.
Though the holidays are an excellent time to step up philanthropy, businesses can benefit from corporate giving year-round.  In fact, at a recent Metrowest business conference, Leonard Schlesinger, president of Babson College, said that we must “recognize that it is going to increasingly become an expectation for our corporations [to engage in philanthropy].”  With $2.13 million and 2,266 employee volunteer hours in 2011 to not-for-profit organizations throughout New England, Greenough client the Arbella Insurance Group and its Foundation (“Arbella”) is an example of corporate citizenship done right.  Here are a few qualities of Arbella’s charitable outreach that make it such a success and a model for others:

1.  Think Locally

Arbella is a local company and reinforces that message with its philanthropy.  Arbella Insurance serves New England, so the company donates time and money to charities that are based out of and serve New England communities.  Instead of focusing on big-name, national charities, Arbella partners with smaller, local groups like Boston-based Project Bread and Cradles to Crayons.  Doing so ensures that aid goes directly to the communities where Arbella’s employees, agents and customers live and work, and in turn strengthens the company’s local roots.

2.  Empower Your Employees

Though the focus of corporate philanthropy is often externally-focused —money or hours going to an outside organization and boosting the outward-facing reputation of the company— giving employees the opportunity to donate strengthens internal opinion of and loyalty to the company.  Arbella gives its employees many ways to get involved in charities important to them, from hosting Pink Day, an afternoon when employees bid on auction items to support breast cancer research, to the Employee Giving Program, where employees enter a lottery held twice a year to donate $1,000 to the charity of their choice.  Being able to give through your workplace invests the employer-employee relationship with a little more camaraderie.  It makes employees proud of their workplace and rallies the office together around a cause.

3.  Address New Needs as They Develop

When the economy took a hard hit a few years back, Arbella noticed the influx of news stories about food pantries in dire need.  Arbella took action, launching its “Let’s Drive Out Hunger” campaign with its independent agents in 2008. This Foundation matched-donation program for local food pantries achieves steady participation of between 85 and 100 agents each year and since its inception has raised more than $280,000.

Similarly, when Arbella’s CEO started noticing an uptick in accidents caused by distracted driving, he realized that legislation wasn’t enough and that the issue had to be addressed with education.  Arbella sponsored research in the area of distracted driving at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and then used driving simulations to develop Distractology 101, a high-tech mobile classroom that tours high schools and insurance agencies around the region to teach the dangers of distracted driving through video game-like simulators.

By addressing community needs as they develop, Arbella demonstrates its deep knowledge of the local landscape and commitment to the communities it serves. Through working on a local level, involving its employees, and addressing new needs as they come, Arbella has established itself as a leader in corporate citizenship in New England.  Its giving strategies continue to positively impact the communities it serves, while at the same time strengthening relationships with employees and agents. It is an excellent model for companies to look to this holiday season and the whole year round.

Lucy Muscarella is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella