How to increase employee engagement for your corporate foundation 

In today's episode, we discuss how to increase employee engagement with your corporate foundation. We explore why volunteering is key and some creative ideas to increase employee participation.

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:  

Now, I've got two special guests today. My first guest, she's my co-host, [00:00:30] her name is Kerry Lawrence. She is the Internal Community Investment Consultant with Benevity. Her focus is on social impact and corporate community investment. And our special guest today, her name is Beth Michel. She's the head of the Pure Good Foundation. Thank you very much, Beth, for joining us today.

Beth Michel:                 Yeah, of course. Thank you guys for having me.

Karl Yeh:                      

So I want to get right into it.

How do you get employees excited and to participate in a company's foundation?


Beth Michel:                

That's a really great question, and one with an answer that's ever evolving, always changing.

Two years ago, before the pandemic, I would've given you a very different answer than I'm giving you now.

So happy to talk through some ideas and things that have been successful for us.

One of the biggest things that has helped us to be successful is that we stopped assuming what our employees wanted us to help them engage with and we started asking them. [00:01:30]

We gave them a number of opportunities, I know, and thankful for Benevity that we have this platform that allows us to do that, but we give them the opportunity to tell us what they're interested in.

Do whatever you want, and then six months down the road, we're going to take a survey, see how it's going, and then we'll change our engagement strategies around that.

Kerry Lawrence:           

I love that.

And I think that's one of the things that I would always come to first is what do they love and how can you leverage that? 100%.

So I want to kind [00:02:00] of take a little bit of a step back and kind of ask you, why do you think that volunteer support from employees is so important to your foundation grantees?

Volunteer support from employees key to foundation grantees

Beth Michel:                

I come from a nonprofit background. Of course, now I work at a corporate foundation, which is a nonprofit, but very different.

And when working on the community nonprofit side, even when we get grants, which are imperative to continuing the work that we do throughout communities, we needed volunteers too.

It's almost like words without action.

You need both the funding and the volunteerism in order to really be impactful with our mission.

One of the biggest things that has helped us to be successful is that we stopped assuming what our employees wanted us to help them engage with and we started asking them.

So when I made the move from a local nonprofit to the corporate foundation, I knew that was something that we needed to continue to pair.

So whenever we do any kind of granting or donations out to nonprofits, I always try to make sure that there's a volunteer aspect connected with it, just so we can amplify the work that's being done with our donations, our corporate grants to the foundational [00:03:00] grantees.


Kerry Lawrence:           

So would you say that this amplification of what you're doing already is the problem that you're trying to solve as a foundation by having the employees volunteer?

Beth Michel:                

I don't think that's the problem that we're trying to solve.

I think it's just one of the biggest ways that we can leverage employees to make an impact and then also to best engage them.

There are always going to be some employees who just want to make a donation. They're not interested in volunteering.

There's going to be some employees that just want to volunteer. [00:03:30] They don't have the money right now to make a financial contribution.

But then there's so many employees, I would say the larger majority of them, that just want to help.

They want to be impactful.

They want to make a difference.

And they don't realize that you really need that one-two punch in order to make the kind of impact that they want to make.

BSo I think that's kind of, as far as engagement goes, maybe that's the problem we're trying to solve.

But of course, [00:04:00] as a foundation, we have a mission.

We want to empower our employees to build a better world, as well as our nonprofit partners. So that's kind of the problem we're trying to solve on a larger scale.

The volunteerism, the granting, those are more like the action steps for us as a foundation to solve that larger problem.

Karl Yeh:                       

So I guess based on your experience of trying to get employees to engage with your grantees, what are some of the lessons that you've learned?

Lessons learned from engaging employees with grantees


Beth Michel:                

So many. [00:04:30] I mean, every day I'm learning new lessons.

Again, making sure that we are serving the employees to find out what they want to do.

I want our foundation to serve as a third party conduit, connecting the employees to the grantees.

And so some of the grantees are going to have very robust staff and very robust marketing and it's really easy for me to do. I can direct employees straight to the grantees' websites.

They have almost like a job [00:05:00] listing of volunteer opportunities, specific ways that $5 does X within our nonprofit.

The organizations, the nonprofits that have those set up, it's easy for me to get employees to engage with those.

Usually the smaller nonprofits still do just as much work in the community, but they don't have as many of those staffing resources. Those are the ones that it's harder for us to engage our employees with.

And again, that's where some kind of a platform, [00:05:30] something that will allow me to be that third party partner between the employee and the community need really comes in hand.


Karl Yeh:                      

Well, that was a good point because one of my follow up questions would be who would you recommend working with to kind of make this happen?

Are there any other groups or resources that you would consider?

Recommended groups to help


Beth Michel:                

Yeah. I mean, I've worked with a lot of them. When I was in the nonprofit, at the local nonprofit working, we [00:06:00] used a lot of different websites. We're based here. I was always based in the US nonprofits.

So there's a number of different fundraising, kind of third party platforms you can utilize. And then of course there's websites like Volunteer Match, Helping Hands, organizations like that we would also utilize for our volunteer efforts.

So again, when moving over into the corporate world a while back now, I think one of the things that I loved most about Benevity, [00:06:30] the platform that we chose to go with, because there's dozens out there, but Benevity combined both of those things.

I no longer had to go to two different websites to source our donations and then another website to source volunteerism. It was all there in one so that was really helpful for us.               

And now that, again, I'm at a corporate donation and we work internationally, there's no single platform or software that I could use nationally if we didn't use Benevity. [00:07:00] Overseas, they don't have a volunteer match website like we have here in the States.

Even in Canada, they don't have the same type of resource that we have here in the States.

Hey, if someone wants to develop a website out there overseas, that would be a great one for you to develop because it's not that they're developing countries or anything like that, it's just not something they have.

So again, that's why something that allows us to consolidate and just send our employees to one location to [00:07:30] do everything community engagement is 1,000% useful in what I do every day.

Karl Yeh:                      

Because actually I've been hearing this quite a bit, just listening to some of our prospects and some of their issues and problems. And one of the key things that I think you touched on was the ease of use, right?

So if it's super, super easy, then I'm more likely to engage.

But if it's, like you said, I have to go to three different things.

That just decreases my motivation [00:08:00] at all, right?

Ease of use for employees a key factor in social impact software


Beth Michel:                

Well, and you know what's interesting too, I mean, I'm not tech savvy, but coming into the tech world, I just thought everyone at this company was going to be like Bill Gates.

I didn't know. So I was, of course, really pleased when I entered the company and there's people who were just like me.

And sometimes I even had to serve as the Excel expert. I was like, "Oh, this is amazing. At a tech company, and they're asking me for help on Excel."

But no, it's great because you need something that'll work for the person [00:08:30] who messages me and is like, "Hey, I noticed something in Benevity. I'm an app developer and I could actually make their website better.

Could you connect me with their support team?" "Okay." And then there's other people who reach out to me and they're like, "I can't figure out how to log in." So you have to have something that caters to both ends of that technology understanding spectrum.

Kerry Lawrence:           

I was kind of wondering about, now that you have it sort of more organized in [00:09:00] that sense, looking at your volunteering versus donation, what do you think, just from your own experience, has there been more volunteering?

Do your employees love it or are they more into the donation? What have you noticed?

Beth Michel:                

Yeah, well, of course, again, because of the pandemic, everything changed.

Pre-pandemic, we were much more volunteer focused than we were donation focused.

We still had employees that did both, but much higher percentage of volunteer engagement than donation. [00:09:30]

The second the pandemic hit and people started having to work from home and stay at home, yeah, of course the volunteerism shut down to zero for at least I'd say a good six months while businesses were trying to figure out how to work from home and get their operations up and running.

Nonprofits were having to do the same thing while having a fraction of the resources that these big businesses had.

So there was at least six months where our nonprofit partners were just scrambling to provide services.

They weren't even thinking about how to get volunteers out [00:10:00] there. So we had a huge increase in the amount of giving.

And what I love is now that we've gone more hybrid, the donations haven't gone down.

The number of employees who want to volunteer have actually increased and they're staying there. So now what we're working on is ramping back up that volunteerism.

Over the past year or so, after the first six months-ish of no volunteerism, we definitely had some virtual volunteerism come [00:10:30] back in, but there's going to be a group of employees, like the extroverts, like myself, who virtual volunteerism just doesn't, it doesn't give me the feels like the in person stuff does.

So now that we've had a couple of in person, safely, socially distanced events, and those were very well attended.

So I'm really excited to see in the next six months, if the donations ever do go down or if they stay where they're at, and we just see our volunteerism numbers jump back up to where they were at [00:11:00] pre-pandemic.

Fingers crossed that's what's going to happen.

Kerry Lawrence:           

Yeah, I hope it does too.

And I think that's interesting, listening and reading stats over the last year or two in terms of donation volumes with employees versus the volunteering.

Yes, absolutely, volunteering has gone down.

And I think in a nutshell, it has, but now all of a sudden it's thinking about these creative ways to host the volunteering events or whether you're doing events, like what you're talking about, or whether it's [00:11:30] just connecting.

That's a segue to say, if you're someone else who's trying to generate engagement or trying to figure out some creative ideas, do you have anything you could share?

Creative ideas for employee engagement


Beth Michel:                

Yeah. I think one thing that I always think about, again, because I have that nonprofit experience, is we always want to reach out to our grantees, the nonprofits that we support, and ask them, "In what ways can we help our employees engage with you to better reach your mission?" [00:12:00]

And they'll come back to us with things like mentorship, tree planting events, mock interviews, things that work with that nonprofit's participants.

But again, my nonprofit experience, I come back to them and I'm like, 'No, no. I mean what do you need? You guys are low on resources with web design. I have an entire staff of web developers that work at Pure Storage. I could utilize them to maybe help you with the actual operational work of your nonprofit." [00:12:30]

So if you have employees that are having a hard time engaging with any of your grantees, your nonprofits out there, see if maybe they want to work, the stuff they do every day at work, they could do that same work potentially, but for a nonprofit.

Helps the nonprofit, and it also helps an employee to see how what they're doing every day to help the bottom line of the company could also help the bottom line, if you will, of a nonprofit.

It doesn't always have to be that work with the actual community [00:13:00] member in need.

Kerry Lawrence:           

Do you have, as the Pure Good Foundation, do you have consistent partnerships that you're always finding that you're trying to touch base with all the time to say, "What do you need?" Or are you also riffing off of where employees want to volunteer as well?

Beth Michel:                

Both. Both. It'd probably be easier if we just had one or the other, but you can't do that, so we have both.

As I kind of mentioned, the main problem [00:13:30] that we're trying to solve is foundation. I said that we do it through empowering our employees and nonprofit partners to build a better world, but we have to have a couple of vision areas, causes that we really want to focus on.

 So for us, that's workforce development, training up a more diverse, equitable group of employees to enter the workforce and carry us into the future, especially those from a non-traditional background, which I won't even step up to the soap box because this would be a much [00:14:00] longer podcast.

But the second one that we're really excited about, we're actually really starting to focus on it more this year, is environment and sustainability work.

So we do a lot of nonprofit partnerships around that. We've launched some specific grant cycles just for organizations that work in those areas.          

And of course, I'll focus a lot of my bigger picture work there, but then we also have our employee volunteer program.

This is the bread and butter of what we do, providing grants, where our employees [00:14:30] are already volunteering in their community, giving a donation bonus to nonprofits where our employees are on the board of, groups of employees can get together to volunteer.

And we will, again, amplify that group volunteer activity by a granted nonprofit. Things like that.


Beth Michel:                

So if an employee wants us to support what they're doing, it doesn't have to be in workforce development and the environment. It doesn't even get any strategic advantage because it's in that area.

They're just [00:15:00] kind of separate but equal. I don't like that phrase, but you know what I mean. We have the employee side and then the bigger picture side of what Pure Good Foundation is trying to do, and the bigger stuff also aligns with what our company Pure Storage is doing as well.

Karl Yeh:                      

So, Beth, I guess before we start, can you tell us a little bit more about the Pure Good Foundation?

Beth Michel:                

Happy to. Pure Good Foundation is the corporate foundation of Pure Storage Inc, our parent [00:15:30] company.

We've been around since 2015. A really great story, I love telling this, but the company Pure Storage was actually about to go public.

They were in the pre-IPO stage. And we had a group of amazing, amazing employees who were like, "Hey, we know that this company is going to be really successful.

And when it gets successful, we're going to want to have some kind of a corporate foundation," because those employees were already doing things in our local community in California.

And so they went to the rest of the company and asked everybody, [00:16:00] pulled all 1200 plus employees at the time, and said, "If we start a corporate foundation, would you want to donate some of your pre-IPO stock so that they would have seed funding?

And we could do philanthropy after the company goes public?"

Over 80% of the company came back yes and said they wanted to do that.

So that's how we got our start. We're going on year seven, which is amazing. We've gone through a couple iterations of what the program looks like, but right [00:16:30] now our mission is to empower our employees and nonprofit partners to build a better world.

Karl Yeh:                      

So Beth, I know, again, we can talk about this for hours on end because this is such an awesome topic, but is there anything you want to leave our audience with?

One of the things that's been most successful for us is trying to think outside of the box.

It's not easy to do because the world of corporate foundations, [00:17:00] even the idea of corporate social responsibility, it's still pretty new.

When I came into this world five, six years ago, CSR wasn't a thing really. It wasn't a term that was well known and understood.

So it's easy for us to pigeonhole into the things that work well and that we see some of the big players out there doing, but you need to really customize it so that it works for your company, your foundation grantees, and your employees.

And when [00:17:30] you do that, it's a little bit harder, it's going to take some extra lift on your part, but it's going to make something truly special.

It's going to make your foundation special. It's going to make your foundation not only impactful, but something that will be a talent magnet for your company.

People will want to come there because of the culture that you built, all based around this idea for us of go do good.

That's our mantra.

So again, not easy, but definitely worth doing. And having a partner like Benevity that [00:18:00] gives you the tools to do it, we wouldn't be able to do it without that, 100%.

Karl Yeh:                      

And if our audience wants to connect with you, what would be the best place to reach you?

Beth Michel:                

You can find me on LinkedIn. I would reach out to me there.

Otherwise, you can always email general questions to

That comes to me and my team and we'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Question of the Day:

How have you increased employee participation with your company's foundation?