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John Hailer Emphasizes Skills-Based Volunteering as a Key Component of Corporate Philanthropy

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John Hailer Emphasizes Skills-Based Volunteering as a Key Component of Corporate Philanthropy

With years of experience spearheading charitable giving at Natixis, John Hailer, now President of Boston-based 1251 Asset Management, knows the value of bringing a business mindset to corporate philanthropy.

As companies place more emphasis on non-financial metrics like ESG, their social impact has become more of a focus. With competing priorities, a crowded charitable sector, and seemingly intractable global challenges, where is a business to start? John Hailer, who put philanthropy at the heart of his business strategy when he took the helm at Natixis Investment Managers more than ten years ago, provides an answer.

The Importance of Garnering Focus

First, set out a clear focus. For Hailer, after a period of consultation with employees and leaders across the company, the consensus was clear: groups providing vital human services to vulnerable populations in the cities and regions where Natixis was doing business.

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. As in business, focused efforts often yield better results. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Focus on what you’re best at.

“For us, this meant, ‘stay local,’” said Hailer. “Pick an area where you want to make a difference and ideally where you have some unique expertise, then focus and execute as you would in your own business.”

“Pick something that’s important, that you have a passion for, that you have a connection to. Then stay with that for a while to learn. The more you spread out, the less impact you have,” said Hailer.

John Hailer on Enhancing Existing Services

Second, focus on how your assistance can help support the charities doing the work in the field today. They know the challenge, and they know their needs. Think about how you can make them better rather than creating new organizations and foundations that compete or replicate services.

“Work with the players on the field,” said Hailer. “Don’t try to draft a new team.”

The best partnerships often grow out of deep collaborations where companies can get involved, make an impact and help change an organization. All organizations can be better. Be the partner that helps them get there.

“M&A isn’t just for for-profit companies,” said John Hailer. “At Natixis Investment Managers, we ended up helping a number of our charities through mergers and other types of inorganic growth that saw them emerge stronger and on a better footing for the short- and long-term.

Third, ask your charitable partners what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

“We did, and the resounding answer was that what they really needed was expertise,said Hailer.

The vast majority of charitable organizations are small. Overworked and understaffed, they often lack many of the dedicated skill sets they need. Where to find them? You don’t have to look far.

The Value of Expertise and Skills

“When we asked our charities what they needed, they said funding is number one but expertise and new skill-sets was a close second,” said Hailer. “We had that in spades.”

The company quickly set about developing charitable teams that would work with dedicated charities to lend them the skills they needed, whether it be expert legal advice, new marketing ideas, data analytics, IT, etc. The result? Drastically higher employee participation rates, more financial as well as non-financial support for charities, and more engaged employees.

“We realized everyone in our company could play a role, and when presented in this way, they wanted to,” said Hailer. “Looking back, we could even see how these programs helped us identify some of the young leaders later serving in senior management positions.”

The Growth of “Skills-Based Volunteering”

A decade later, what is now collectively referred to as “Skills-based Volunteering” has been gaining traction across the corporate world, not just in the US, but in local business communities in Europe and beyond.

“This is about what businesses can do to effect real change,” said Hailer. “In addition to funding, it’s about skills, it’s about matching up, it’s about giving charities what they need.”

“Business helps when it brings what it’s good at – real expertise that helps charities run better and do what they are there to do: help people in need.”

Through corporate philanthropy and community-based volunteer work, a company acknowledges the community’s role in the business’ success. The firm’s philanthropic programs benefit recognized non-profit organizations. Ideally, these groups’ activities translate into a better quality of life for the community members they serve.

What Does Success Look Like?

All involved in the partnership need to have clearly stated goals and objectives, not just the company and its employees, but the charities as well, says Hailer.

“Each company and charity is different,” says John Hailer. “Be transparent about what you need and ask your charitable partners to do the same. For us, we focused first on increasing engagement among our employees, and in a few years, we saw participation rates increase from 25% to more than 75%, which meant three out of four employees were engaged on a dedicated charitable team.”

The approach helped Natixis attract and retain young talent and better identify young leaders, who had a new outlet to showcase their creativity and leadership skills. It also helped Natixis tear down silos and build a more cohesive culture across the group as employees worked on charitable projects across functions.

“We saw people moving out of their comfort zones and building cultural connections that never existed before,” said Hailer.

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