Philanthropy is about more than contributing to causes that reflect your values. It also can serve as a unifying force to bring your staff together while helping others.

"If leaders want to earn trust, remain relevant and attract the best talent, they have to incorporate philanthropy," says Patti Jo Wiese, business growth strategist at PJ Wiese Group in Vancouver. "They should talk less about themselves and more about what they, and their clients, care about."

Wiese works closely with financial advisory practices to help shape their branding and workplace culture. For one client, she pitched the idea of throwing support behind Kiva, a non-profit organization that provides microloans to undercapitalized entrepreneurs around the world.

The impetus for the idea was to engage the advisor's younger staff members — tech-savvy millennials who want to work for a purpose-driven organization. The project has since evolved into one that engages both staff and clients.

Here are steps you can take to adopt a social initiative that enhances your relationship with your staff — and your clients:  

> Make a simple pitch
Your objective must not be simply to project a certain image to your clients. When you propose the idea to your staff, explain why the initiative matters to you, how you plan to engage your team members and what positive impact you hope it will have.

> Give team members a stake
Involve your staff in the process of determining where their money and efforts will go, Wiese says. She has found that rallying people behind an issue first, as opposed to a specific organization, can be more effective.

Instead of saying the plan is to give to "X" group, there should be a discussion about the values and issues that your staff feels passionate about.

The practice that Wiese works with got on board with Kiva mainly because its staff is primarily composed of women, and it connected with their experience. "They recognized that women are marginalized when it comes to financing," Wiese says. "Many had experienced that in their own lives."

One way the practice elevated team members' sense of involvement was by creating an internal competition. Staff divided into teams to see who could raise more funds, and used that step as a springboard for involving clients.

> Communicate the impact
People often struggle with how — or whether — to share stories of their philanthropic work, for fear of sounding boastful. But when the cause resonates with your staff, Wiese says, they will be more inclined to spread the word for you.

"When you have enlisted employees who are proud of the place they work in," she adds, "they'll talk to clients about it. That's free marketing."

For example, Wiese's client captured the team's enthusiasm for the project through a series of videos. Some team member shared personal video messages with individual clients, as a way of inviting them to join their fundraising effort.

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