By Michelle Barrett
For The Bellingham Business Journal
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for what we have and reflect on how we can give back. Growing up in Ferndale, a common phrase in my household was “they need it more than we do.” My mom often bought groceries for families who were struggling. My dad, a general contractor, was known for helping those less fortunate by inviting people from his job site to our dinner table, and by giving tools to carpenters who didn’t have money to buy their own. Even though my parents didn’t have a lot of extra money themselves, they showed me how to help those in need.
The importance of giving back continues to guide my management philosophy at Peoples Bank. However, I firmly believe all local businesses have a responsibility to give back to the communities they serve. This includes supporting much-needed social services such as employment outreach assistance, subsidized child care, a well-funded foster care system, mental health and substance abuse support and meals and housing services.
As a businesswoman, I see the positive impact on our local economy when a robust philanthropic environment is in place in the community. It supports new job creation, a strong talent pool, and engaged and loyal customers. Corporate giving programs also provide a valuable outlet for employees to contribute their time and expertise, deepening their connections in the community and allowing them to reap the rewards of giving back.
There are many ways to build a strong corporate giving program. Here are a few principles that I feel are most important.
Ensure it goes beyond check-writing. Giving back doesn’t just mean getting out the checkbook. It can mean serving on boards, organizing fundraising campaigns, offering paid time-off so employees can volunteer their time and skills, matching employee or customer contributions or donations, and partnering with local nonprofits. A strong corporate giving program is well-rounded and leverages your employees’ diverse backgrounds and abilities to give, whether it’s money, time or expertise.
Build in flexibility. Our corporate-giving program at Peoples Bank is very well planned in terms of where we are going to allocate financial resources for sponsorships and grants each year. We maintain a separate annual budget for giving, but we also keep some of that budget open, so if a new cause comes forward that we want to give to, we’ll have the flexibility to do so.
Create opportunities for all employees. To have a successful program, we need to engage employees on all levels. In addition to corporate-level support for charitable causes, it’s important to let teams or business groups select an activity that is meaningful to them. This could take the form of sponsoring a family at the holidays or building a house together with Habitat for Humanity. This is especially important, I’ve found, at larger corporations where employees may get lost in the shuffle otherwise and not become involved in corporate giving opportunities because they don’t have a voice in how they want to give back.
Giving back is part of my family’s culture, and I’m grateful to work for a company where it’s ingrained in our culture, too. It’s not enough to just run a business anymore. Employees and customers not only encourage companies to give back but expect it of them. And when they do, they provide the synergy required for communities to thrive.
With over 20 years of experience in human resources, Michelle Barrett is the Chief Retail Banking & Marketing Officer at Peoples Bank. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in economics from Western Washington University. She is the recipient of the Kermit O. Hanson Award of Excellence as a graduate from the University of Washington’s Pacific Coast Banking School and earned a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certificate from the Society of Human Resources Management.