Giving is in our blood in Texas, and Big D gives big. Corporate giving has always played a robust role in civic efforts, from community development to education initiatives. This is widely known, but what many don’t realize is that one Dallas-based company is quietly turning corporate philanthropy on its head — and many are hoping others will follow its lead.
In a break from business as usual, financial services company ORIX USA has put the reins of giving squarely in the hands of its employees. Replacing the traditional top-down model of an executive team implementing a corporate giving platform, ORIX Foundation is employee-led and highly autonomous.
“Putting your people in charge of philanthropy helps them develop as leaders in and out of the office.”
Employees drive the foundation’s decision-making and grants. Personnel from every rank and division of ORIX USA serve on the foundation board, which is tasked with thoroughly vetting every grant application. Employees volunteer to conduct financial reviews, make program site visits. and determine which investments are likely to make the biggest impact locally. Since 2009, the foundation has invested $8.1 million in local nonprofits.
“It adds a new dimension to how a company gives back when you’re cultivating more active citizens,” said Josh Mayfield, ORIX Foundation board president and head of ORIX Energy Capital. “Putting your people in charge of philanthropy helps them develop as leaders in and out of the office.”
And, the data suggests there is merit to this approach. Orix’s employees volunteer more than twice as much as the Bureau of Labor Statistics national average — 66 percent volunteer for community nonprofit organizations totaling more than 8,000 service hours contributed to Dallas.
ENCOURAGING SOCIAL INNOVATION
ORIX USA recently demonstrated the company’s confidence in its employee’s social investment know-how by giving an additional $3 million to the foundation this fiscal year. The only stipulation made by the corporation: employees should decide how those dollars can make the biggest impact. In response, ORIX Foundation’s employee-led board created a special grant opportunity to encourage social innovation in North Texas.
The new Community Innovation Project will invest in Dallas-area nonprofits creating game-changing approaches to solving social issues. The goal: to seed and grow new approaches to pervasive community problems like poverty, achievement gaps, or unemployment. Nonprofits have submitted letters of intent over the summer, which are currently being vetted by employees.
DIVERSE GIVING PROMOTES EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
The investments ORIX Foundation makes, whether through the Community Innovation Project or through its annual grant cycle, are intentionally broad.
“We go broad at the foundation level so our people can go deep in areas of their own choosing.”
Most corporate foundations focus on only a handful of investment areas, either to create concentrated impact or support causes tied to their businesses. ORIX Foundation, in contrast, gives to as many as 100 organizations annually in six expansive focus areas: basic needs, children at risk, education, empowerment, health, and veterans.
“We go broad at the foundation level so our people can go deep in areas of their own choosing,” said Carol Greene, the foundation’s director. “We want to make a strong, positive impact on the local community, but we also want to create greater community engagement. If, through the foundation, we inspire employees to become donors, volunteers, and board members on their own time and for their lifetimes, our impact for the community is exponentially bigger.”
Foundation activities are designed to help employees identify their personal areas of passion and interest. Volunteer opportunities and annual events such as a foundation fair and a grantee bus tour are stepping stones to deeper involvement. As a result, you can find ORIX employees fanned out across the community, volunteering their time to serve breakfast at The Stewpot, acting as court-appointed advocates for abused children for CASA, and serving on boards at organizations such as Interfaith Housing Services.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
Creating the framework for the foundation took several years of trial, error, and refinement.
“It’s been like any startup, really. It’s hard work, and you learn a lot along the way, but the payoff has been huge — for the people involved, in terms of culture and engagement, and ultimately for the community,” Mayfield said.
Corporations interested in learning more about building an employee-led foundation can contact ORIX Foundation’s lead, Carol Greene at email@example.com.
“It’s been like any startup, really. It’s hard work, and you learn a lot along the way, but the payoff has been huge …”
“We really believe in this model, and we’d like to see it spread,” Mayfield said. “We’ve already got a generous business community in North Texas, so imagine the possibilities. Our collective ability to tackle complex challenges like poverty, education, and hunger just gets stronger with more people in the workforce who are highly engaged and informed.”
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