Empower Employees and Build a Culture of Giving

Stephen Budorick, President and CEO at Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), discusses the importance of empowering employees to lead volunteer efforts and the benefits it can have on an organization.

What is your company’s strategy on corporate giving?

At COPT, corporate giving is something we try to maintain throughout the year. We believe that employee empowerment makes for a stronger organization and philanthropy is a powerful way to connect with your team. We provide our teammates with an opportunity to have a say in our philanthropy as well as make it easy for them to give, as they wish, to a great organization, which we find makes for a much more engaged and generous workplace.

What concepts have been effective and what value might other organizations find in them? 

  1. Create a grant program. We want to give our team a voice and we do that through our Corporate Giving Committee. The committee consists of 11 employees but they take their lead from our entire team. Our Associate Grant Program allows every employee the opportunity to apply for grant money for a nonprofit organization that is important to them. The grants range from $250 to $5,000. In 2020 we awarded 64 grants totaling over $340,000 that benefited communities where we live, work and serve. Corporate budgets run the gambit but any amount can be impactful when people are making decisions that are important to them.
  2. Find a partner. Like in business, finding the right partner in philanthropy is game changing. While empowering the team through the grant program, we also believe in having an overarching relationship with a partner organization that is both supported by the company as a whole but also by our employees who wish to give and are looking for a way to do that simply and impactfully. For us, that means our partnership with the United Way of Central Maryland. We have worked with the United Way for over two decades through a powerful employee-funded campaign, creating a vehicle that allows them to support this tremendous work if they choose to do so. At the same time, COPT supports the United Way at the corporate level to make the impact that much more special. This employee-based and corporate approach has worked well and we believe it would work well at companies of any size.
  3. Make It fun. We believe that giving should be fun and team building. To help with this we created COPT Cares Fridays where employees donate a minimum of $5 per month for the opportunity to wear jeans to work on Fridays. While it is a small gesture, it certainly adds up and once again, the employees determine which local nonprofit will benefit from these funds.
  4. Volunteer. We feel strongly that being involved in our community is essential to being a good community member. One way we do that is by encouraging the team to get out into the communities in which they work and live and give of their time. We rolled out our “Donate 8” program, which grants all employees eight hours each year to volunteer at an organization of their choice. In 2020, employees volunteered a total of 1,120 paid work hours through Donate 8. A program like this is easy to establish and the good will created internally we find to be immeasurable.

What advice can you offer other organizations based on your experience with corporate giving?

I encourage businesses of all sizes to evaluate your giving efforts and to consider altering your approach to engage employees, empower them to make them part of the process, and make it fun. By placing the decision-making power in the hands of your teammates, we believe you will find that a spirit of giving and empowerment consumes your organization and brings a renewed energy to the team.