Sunday, October 21 , 2018, 1:04 pm | Fair 72º

 
 
 
 
Good for Santa Barbara

Creating a Charitable Culture in the Workplace Benefits Employees and Community

Pacific Western Bank, ERG Resources and Santa Barbara Foundation lead by example — with far-reaching impacts

Lynda Nahra, regional president of Pacific Western Bank, is board chairwoman of the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation and is active in several other nonprofit organizations. “The bank is a big supporter of nonprofits, in general, but the commitment has always been, to me, more personal,” she says. “Overall, though, it’s just the right thing to do. If everyone did something in their community, think of how much better off we’d be.” Click to view larger
Lynda Nahra, regional president of Pacific Western Bank, is board chairwoman of the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation and is active in several other nonprofit organizations. “The bank is a big supporter of nonprofits, in general, but the commitment has always been, to me, more personal,” she says. “Overall, though, it’s just the right thing to do. If everyone did something in their community, think of how much better off we’d be.” (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Creating a culture of community service is simple: lead by example.

“I don’t want to be the person who hands out money,” said Lynda Nahra, regional president of Pacific Western Bank.

“I want giving to be cultural within my region, incorporate it into the staff. I want people to roll up their sleeves and work side by side in the community by picking things they’re passionate about, interested in, involved in.”

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It’s not a marketing strategy but a philosophy Nahra exemplifies in both her professional and personal endeavors. She serves on the boards of a variety of nonprofit organizations, including the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Rotary Club of Montecito and Westmont Foundation.

“The bank is a big supporter of nonprofits, in general, but the commitment has always been, to me, more personal,” Nahra told Noozhawk. “One component is, yes, that it’s good for business. The more people you work side by side with, the more people you get to know, and people do business with people they know, people they share values with.

“Overall, though, it’s just the right thing to do. If everyone did something in their community, think of how much better off we’d be.”

Barbara Andersen, chief strategy officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation, sees businesses and organizations of every description giving employees opportunities to volunteer on company time, to help fund employee-supported organizations and lend their services as well as make in-kind donations or give money to their communities.

“I think the tone is set by leadership,” she said. “If employees see the leadership is volunteering, engaged, creating the space for that, co-workers feel more comfortable doing that.”

Among the most significant ways Andersen sees businesses and organizations contributing to the local community is allowing employees to volunteer on company time, whether for full days or hours spread over the year.

“Our employees are paid for volunteering for fundraising events,” said Ben Oakley, government affairs manager at ERG Resources. “We consider that a good way to infuse that support to the organization and donating that employee’s time.

“It’s a regular work day for our employees, but they enjoy being there. It’s a change of pace, fun, and the organization gets the help it needs.”

While the Santa Barbara Foundation’s work is philanthropy, its employees also are compensated for some of the time they give to projects of their choice.

“They volunteer for any organization as a private citizen,” said Andersen, who volunteers with Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara.

Barbara Andersen, chief strategy officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation, notes that younger employees tend to place a higher value on businesses and organizations that provide opportunities to volunteer on company time or that help fund employee-supported organizations. “Millennials are much more active in volunteerism and giving,” she says. “Many of them don’t have another way to give back, so, in general, they’re volunteering hours ... because they want to be able, as an individual, to be seen and to give back.” Click to view larger
Barbara Andersen, chief strategy officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation, notes that younger employees tend to place a higher value on businesses and organizations that provide opportunities to volunteer on company time or that help fund employee-supported organizations. “Millennials are much more active in volunteerism and giving,” she says. “Many of them don’t have another way to give back, so, in general, they’re volunteering hours ... because they want to be able, as an individual, to be seen and to give back.” (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s not in our name. If we show up as a foundation or an organization, it sends a different message than if they show up as individuals who are truly passionate about the programs they’ve selected themselves.”

Other Santa Barbara Foundation employees volunteer with Restorative Community Network Santa Barbara, in school kitchens, on athletic fields and more.

“The smallest gestures are the most meaningful,” Andersen said.

For businesses with resources to provide a range of opportunities, Andersen suggests offering matching grants for programs in which employees are actively involved.

One example is Citrix, she said, which matches full-time employees’ donations up to $1,000 to qualified charities of the employees’ choice.

“For smaller organizations, any dollar amount is meaningful, but if there’s an opportunity to share and match resources, and volunteer, those offerings are received well,” Andersen said.

ERG Resources, a North County oil and gas producer, embodies community giving through corporate participation as well as employee volunteerism.

“We’re locally managed,” Oakley explained. “The folks who work out here, live here. We have a long history of operating in Santa Barbara County, and we realize we have an industrial activity in a very beautiful area.

“We endeavor to be good stewards of the land and operate in an environmentally sound manner.”

Part of that effort involves establishing relationships in the community, maintaining open communication and funding organizations that have a positive impact on the local community.

“We live here, work here, our families go to school here, so it just makes sense for us to support those many causes in the county,” said Oakley, who also volunteers with the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County.

Oakley said ERG focuses its charitable giving in four key areas to maximize the benefits to the community: education programs and projects, children, youth and families, and conservation and environmental protection.

Ben Oakley, government affairs manager at ERG Resources, notes that a company’s culture sets the tone inside and outside of the organization. “The giving philosophy trickles down from management,” he says. “It’s not just writing a check, but participating in their programs, being present personally at their events and getting to know the people who are involved in the organizations.” Click to view larger
Ben Oakley, government affairs manager at ERG Resources, notes that a company’s culture sets the tone inside and outside of the organization. “The giving philosophy trickles down from management,” he says. “It’s not just writing a check, but participating in their programs, being present personally at their events and getting to know the people who are involved in the organizations.” (ERG Resources photo)

“We think that by investing in children and youth it’s an investment in the future of the community, and we ultimately see the benefits of those investments,” he said.

“You can’t just help the kids without touching the families, and that really is the basis for their success or failure.”

Conservation and environmental protection is “paramount to us, so we look for organizations that have positive environmental or conservation mission statements,” Oakley added.

Perhaps ERG’s biggest beneficiary is the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center in Guadalupe, where ERG employees have served on the board, restored wetlands and provided professional services to help the center’s programs.

“Their work and their product and cultural impact to the small town of Guadalupe speaks for itself,” Oakley said.

The internal culture of a business has a far-reaching impact.

“The giving philosophy trickles down from management,” Oakley said. “If you work for a company that frowns on giving, employees aren’t going to get involved.

“It’s not just writing a check, but participating in their programs, being present personally at their events and getting to know the people who are involved in the organizations.”

ERG donates money to chosen programs, but Oakley said that’s really not enough. The company also leads guided walks at Los Flores Reserve, takes part in career days at Blochman Union Elementary School in Sisquoc, and has contributed to the refinishing of the school’s multipurpose room floor and donated a technology cart with 30 tablet computers.

“Sure, the organizations need resources, so they’re happy to receive a check,” he said. “But what really creates value is establishing that relationship, spending time with them, providing not only resources but professional guidance and viewpoints some of these organizations can benefit from.”

Employee giving and volunteerism is on the rise across the board, representing an array of businesses and diversity of volunteers, Andersen noted.

“Millennials are much more active in volunteerism and giving,” she said. “Many of them don’t have another way to give back, so, in general, they’re volunteering hours — a lot in advocacy — because they want to be able, as an individual, to be seen and to give back.”

Philanthropic giving is also undergoing a shift.

“Instead of giving to give, or because it’s a great tax break, millennials want to see the impact for their dollar and be hands-on with the organizations they support financially,” Andersen added.

“We’re seeing a new wave of philanthropy that seems to reflect a difference between inherited wealth and earned wealth. They’re dramatic shifts, and all for the better.”

For Nahra, the decision to give is simple: “If we’re blessed to live here, we might as well give back to the community and make it better.”

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Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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