If you're a business owner, you've probably realized that giving back is an important component of employee engagement. In fact, the Harvard Business Review has found that deriving a higher level of meaning from work results in a 93% increase in engagement. But how do you make sure that your giving programs actually resonate with your employees? Some companies just understand how to do this well, and know what matters to their team. One such organization is Forward Slope, Inc. (FSI), an award-winning technology and services organization located in the San Diego Valley. With roughly 100 employees, FSI is an SBA-certified Small Business that works primarily with the U.S. government and enterprise customers. For the past six years, FSI was voted one of the Best Places to Work by the San Diego Business Journal. The honor is awarded to companies recognized as beneficial to the state’s economy, workforce and businesses, and nominees are chosen based on surveys filled out by employees all over San Diego. We spoke with Robert Clark (VP of Corporate Communications) and Rebecca Aguilar (Operations Manager) at FSI to hear how their business is making waves in San Diego.
A Thankful Company
Established in 2002, FSI has made it their practice to hire only the best and brightest in their field. Much of the workforce is made up of ex-military or ex-government senior employees, all of whom are equipped with the tools and skills necessary for leadership and management. This has naturally led FSI to embrace a flat leadership structure promoting increased employee involvement in the decision-making process. The elevated level of employee responsibility fosters a strong team environment at FSI, and is one of the many factors contributing to their Best Places to Work ranking. Clark described FSI’s “work hard, play hard” philosophy as the basis for an environment that encourages fitness, healthy eating, a solid work/life balance, and an outlet for “doing the right thing.” The company tackles this challenging hybrid in two main ways:
First, the company hosts multiple events throughout the year as a way to cut loose and enjoy time with family and coworkers. For example, they might plan a family night at a Padres game, organize company golf tournaments, and throw annual holiday parties for workers and their families. FSI is very upfront about the belief that their greatest asset is the team they've built, and even say so on the Careers page of their website.
The second way FSI promotes employee engagement is by dedicating a portion of their budget every year to charitable giving. They focus specifically on San Diego County and target four areas within the county: (1) the health industry, (2) youth programs, (3) military and veterans, and (4) educational institutions.
Generating Employee Participation
Each November, employees are given the opportunity to submit requests for charitable funding. Some of their biggest and recurring initiatives are supporting Rady’s Children’s Hospital, an annual Teddy Bear Drive, and raising money for a women’s alcoholic recovery home. While FSI likes to continue giving to these charities each year, they also allow for the possibility of additional giving opportunities brought forth by the employees.
Additionally, and not surprisingly given their background, FSI also supports a number of veteran’s organizations, most notably the Veterans Village of San Diego and the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. Both organizations directly support the training, education and health of disabled veterans. The organized philanthropic efforts within the company promote the feeling of family and teamwork among employees, especially when the charitable efforts are near and dear to many of their hearts.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of FSI’s annual giving campaign is the employee matching initiative. Every year, they have committed to matching any employee’s charitable donations. This decision was so popular among employees that they’ve set an annual matching cap of $500 per person.
A Tree Grows in San Diego
When Rebecca Aguilar first started at FSI in 2011, she brought with her a strong belief in charitable giving. The philanthropic effort most near and dear to her heart is the holiday Giving Tree - a program whereby participants foster a family for the holidays and makes sure needy children receive necessities (like clothing, underwear, shoes, etc.) as gifts. During her first holiday season at FSI, she received approval from the company to offer sponsorship for two or three children with the expectation that she would likely be responsible for them herself. What she didn't expect was a total outpouring of support from not just the staff, but also their friends and family wanting to take part in giving back during the holidays. Aguilar and FSI supported twelve children that first year, and the Giving Tree continues to be a company favorite as far as philanthropy efforts go.
The greatest challenge Forward Slope has faced in regard to their charitable efforts has been the economic slump of the past five years. As many companies are faced with the decision of how to still give back during tough times, a Bloomberg Business article highlights the same reasons that Clark identified as a motivator for continuing to prioritize charitable giving: it boosts employee morale and looks attractive to clients. Plus, in Clark’s own words, “the owners [of the company] are very generous and we believe in doing the right thing.”
On August 10, 2015, FSI was again selected as one of the Best Places to Work in San Diego for 2015. Clark indicates that the environment FSI has created with their organized philanthropic efforts and their emphasis on employee well-being are the main factors in their selection to the list for the sixth year in a row. In his own words:
“Forward Slope is honored to be selected by the San Diego Business Journal as a finalist for the Best Places to Work in San Diego for 2015. I believe that the award can be directly attributable to all the FSI employees who have benefited from our quality of life, charitable giving, and employee recreation opportunities that are second to none, and FSI is extremely proud of that.”
Thanks to Bob and Rebecca for sharing their story with us! Let us know how you're engaging employees at your organization by tagging us on Twitter.