I love this time of year. Not just because the weather cools down and football season is underway, but also because something near and dear to my heart is in full swing across Dane County – the 2018 United Way campaign. Philanthropy is important to me as an individual, and it’s an essential piece of our culture in our company. Not only that, I think it makes us more profitable.

We recently held our United Way campaign kickoff, and the campaign creates such a positive buzz around the office. Our campaign focuses on engaging our employees and helping them to understand the significant impact they can make in our community. We do this by organizing fun events – jeans days, chili-cook offs, indoor mini-golf tournaments, etc. – but also a kickoff rally that brings in a community agency (shout out to Madison Reading Project for being our agency this year) to highlight their work and how our employees can get involved.

Beyond the United Way, our employees support and are involved in over 150 community and non-profit organizations – serving on boards, volunteering, organizing walk/bike teams, etc. As a company, we created the First Business Charitable Foundation to support our corporate giving philosophy and host the annual First Business Bank Charity Golf Invitational, where all proceeds go to the nonprofit of the winners’ choice. Giving back is fundamental to who we are. But it’s not just about being a good corporate citizen, it’s good business!


Attracting good employees is harder than ever. We are in a highly competitive market for excellent talent, so it is critical for business success to create an environment and culture that engages employees and attracts talent to our organization. If you want to be an employer of choice, corporate philanthropy can help you achieve that goal.

Employees, and prospective employees, expect corporate philanthropy to be a core value and mission of their organization, but they aren’t just interested in how much money you donate each year. They want to be part of a company that supports and encourages employee volunteerism. Our Talent Acquisition Manager tells me often that candidates we are interviewing ask specific questions about how First Business Bank is involved in the community, and they are demonstrating that corporate philanthropy is an important criteria for them to consider when making a job change. Getting involved, and giving back, is in their blood – they have been doing it their entire lives. When I was growing up, the only time someone did community service was if it was court-ordered! Now, thankfully, it is a regular part of many people’s lives.


Another outcome is strengthened working relationships. Many companies invest in team-building exercises, scheduling offsite activities like rock climbing, zip lining, bowling, or sports outings. What's often overlooked is when your employees work with each other on community projects, they also have the opportunity to bond, but in a more meaningful way.

Providing opportunities for employees to work as a team and participate in activities and events outside of work helps to build bonds that would not otherwise exist. We have coordinated annual teams that participate in bike rides, walk/runs, volunteer events for the United Way Days of Caring, and even partnered with Habitat for Humanity for a one-day, one-of-a-kind large team building experience with a home panel build right in our parking lot. Loyalty is built on a different level, and these experiences encourage people to grow affinity for each other and the company. They are proud of themselves for giving back, of their coworkers and teammates, and of where they work.

I have written before about how strongly I believe there is a direct connection between employee engagement and business success (to see my blog on this click HERE). Engaged employees = happy clients. It's a simple recipe for success. Taking that a step further, I also believe that there is a direct correlation between corporate philanthropy and employee engagement. A team of highly engaged employees who feel connected to your organization on an emotional level will always achieve more because there’s more motivating them than just their paycheck.


Companies invest heavily in developing leadership. They traditionally focus on training courses, book-driven initiatives, or mentorship programs. But they often overlook the opportunity to develop these skills through community involvement. As I look back over the years, our employees have benefited by gaining leadership skills through United Way’s Loaned Executive program, serving on the Campaign Cabinet, participating or leading the Rosenberry Society, and Women United. They’ve also participated in United Way’s training committee and technology task forces and more.

Outside of United Way, our employees serve on community and nonprofit boards and committees supporting causes near and dear to their hearts. In fact last time we tabulated, we were part of over 150 such organizations. In each situation, an employee gains experience working with teams above and beyond the normal workday experience. It’s a win-win.

I’m not writing this blog to brag about what great corporate citizens we are (there are others who far outpace us) or to try to shame you or your company into having corporate-giving campaigns like the United Way. My angle here is that corporate philanthropy is just good business.

When your company is involved and gives employees the opportunity to do the same with their volunteerism and giving, you are not just helping your community thrive, you are also helping your business succeed.