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Environmental Fund for Arizona
March 16, 2011

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” – Sir Winston Churchill


Human Resources and the Gift of Nature



A remarkable movement of corporate social responsibility is gaining attention across the country lately – remarkable in light of the economic turbulence that has left a wake of soaring unemployment and budget cutbacks in nearly every sector. Despite the economic challenges, major corporations, government institutions and private businesses continue to offer corporate giving programs that enable employees to make pre-tax contributions that support a host of charitable organizations. Some even encourage employees to participate in the giving programs by offering incentives like matching contributions or paid time off for community fundraising events and volunteering opportunities.

While some employers allow their employees to freely choose which non-profit organizations they can support through the program, others adhere to guidelines set by charitable federations like United Way, America’s Charities or Global Impact. Among these, guidelines typically limit the types of organizations employees can choose to humanitarian concerns including children’s charities, health causes, social service and other community outreach initiatives that are funded through the company’s partner federation. While these are very worthy causes, environmental non-profits are often excluded, despite the inextricable relationship between the environment and public health, social wellbeing and national security.

Here in Arizona, a number of public and private employers are now offering employees an environmental option for the very first time via Environmental Fund For Arizona (EFAZ), a federation of 29 environmental and wildlife conservation nonprofits. EFAZ has successfully worked with public and private sector companies that restrict employee-giving campaigns to health and human services organizations.

“We have been accepted into many companies adhering to this guideline because they recognize that human health is dependent upon environmental health. Our partner organizations protect health and human welfare in the most fundamental way,” said Laine Seaton, Executive Director of Environmental Fund For Arizona. According to Seaton, EFAZ successfully participates with companies offering side-by-side campaigns that are not mutually exclusive. “Offering employees an environmental option is a great way to add a 'green' component to employee giving efforts while maintaining an existing relationship with other federations such as United Way.”

“We pride ourselves in the diversity of our culture – with so many employees, they have different backgrounds and interests. If you limit your choices, you’re not reaching your full potential,” said Karen Christensen, a systems engineer at Ratheon, southern Arizona’s largest private employer that offers its employees EFAZ campaign options to diversify its corporate giving program.

The City of Phoenix also began working with EFAZ as a way of diversifying its employee giving program. Until then, city employees had only one option for giving – the United Way. Alana Favela an information technology services employee for the City of Phoenix found it beneficial when the city diversified the giving options, especially for the younger employees. “The younger generation is so diverse – a lot of diversity in what they believe and care about.”

EFAZ is the only federation of environmental and conservation groups in workplace giving campaigns in Arizona. What began as a collaboration of eight environment and conservation groups in 2001 has grown to an alliance of 29 member organizations working together on critical issues affecting Arizona. Today, EFAZ is included in 25 workplace campaigns and has raised more than $700,000 in donations for its member organizations. Through the corporate giving campaigns, employees are given the option to support member organizations individually or donate to a general fund that spreads the money raised evenly to each member organization. The money raised has made a significant impact in Arizona by studying and rehabilitating plant life and wildlife and protecting wild habitats, advocating for renewable energy, clean transportation and water reclamation, and raising awareness about sustainability, waste reduction and other environmental issues through education and community outreach.

The environmental option has been beneficial for DMB Associates, Inc., an Arizona-based Real Estate investment and development firm that has acquired unique lands along with the responsibility to preserve them. As a result of their interaction with EFAZ, their employees have become active participants in these efforts.

“A healthy environment is a critical part of our quality of life. Getting out into nature helps restore us all to sanity,” notes Seaton. The objective of EFAZ is to coordinate programs that encourage people to engage with nature. Member organizations offer campaign partners’ employees field trips into wilderness places and make presentations about natural resources, sustainability and environmental issues in boardrooms and classrooms throughout the state.

“It’s really worthwhile to get involved. This opens up a whole new door and gives our employees more opportunities to give back to the community,” said Laura Rogers, Human Resources Manager Orcutt Winslow, a company that has stressed giving back to the community since founded in 1972. “Green is the hot topic now and so as we’re being ‘green’ in our work and designs, we can also support ‘green’ in our environment.”

According to Seaton, the employee response has been very positive and interactive with the tours, workshops, volunteering and other outreach events where they can get involved personally with making a difference. “I feel good that, even in a small way, what we do helps to get others excited about preserving the natural treasures of Arizona.”

The financial upside benefits not only the receiving organizations but the employers and employees as well. The employee payroll deductions are pre-tax contributions and the matching contributions are tax deductible for the employers. Working with a federation such as EFAZ allows corporations to participate in philanthropic giving without expending internal resources to do so.

One advantage of working with a federation like EFAZ is that the non-profits will receive more of the intended gift. Whereas some United Way affiliates will permit an employee to write in an environmental organization to receive the gift, they charge on average a 9.5% “pledge loss” fee for donations to non-United Way organizations. Furthermore, they can impose minimum donation for non-United Way charities written in by the employee. By representing these excluded environmental groups in its own federation, EFAZ can protect the intended donations to ensure the maximum goes to the receiving organizations, and EFAZ imposes no minimums on any gifts made.

“We’re committed to continue building our alliance and increasing awareness and donations through media/communications and by opening up new campaigns. Our goal is to open 5-10 new campaigns per year to reach 75 campaigns by 2016,” said Lee A. Kohlhase, founder and treasurer of EFAZ. In recent years, EFAZ has raised on average $120,000 annually from our campaigns. Total gifts per member group range from $30,000 to approximately $1,500 per year. “As the only ‘green’ choice in workplace giving in Arizona, we have an outstanding opportunity to leverage this niche and partner with companies and organizations that are committed to sustainability, the environment, and conservation.”

Each campaign disburses donations to EFAZ differently – some monthly and some quarterly. EFAZ aims to distribute donation checks to our member organizations quarterly. With each check, a letter will be included to indicate which distribution it is. A summary of the total pledges for ALL campaigns will be given to each member organization as well. A pledge history for each member will be given out annually.

Seaton is convinced that the value goes deeper than just financial advantages across the board. “It’s not about writing a check. It’s about engaging employees – getting them plugged into the issues they care about and giving them opportunities to help via their time, talents, or donations,” she explains. Studies have shown that employees appreciate having expanded choices in their campaigns, which ultimately leads to increased giving and participation overall.

To help bring EFAZ to the next level, Seaton has established a Participation Program for members to further engage and help promote EFAZ through communications and activities. The organization has also created a Campaign Toolkit that makes running a ‘green’ campaign fun and easy. The toolkit is proving useful for re-invigorating more passive campaigns.

“For us, there is immense value in being a bridge between Arizona employees and the incredible environmental, conservation, and sustainability work being done across the state. We are as grateful for the opportunity to make a difference as we are for their support.” Seaton adds. As for the employees who choose to support EFAZ, Seaton said, “The feedback has been extraordinary. They find value in knowing that their gifts are making the world a better place for us all. That in itself is a gift.”

This article by Snowden Bishop appeared in the December issue of AZGreen Magazine. www.azgreenmagazine.com

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