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How the Chicago Charity Challenge Reinvents Corporate Giving


By Stacey Rago

People want to work for and do business with companies that give to charities, whether in volunteer hours or financial contributions. As a result, corporations are increasingly seeking ways to show a tangible impact of their giving by going beyond the “one-and-done” form of charity events held within their business. Last year, 23 Chicago-area firms found a fun, engaging and motivating solution to keeping employees focused on their favorite cause or charity, while making a significant contribution to the communities they serve.

Last year, more than 4,500 employees from 23 businesses competed in the Chicago Charity Challenge, a unique corporate giving contest designed to motivate participants to fundraise and volunteer. Affectionately dubbed “the Cha Cha,” the Chicago Charity Challenge is the only corporate giving initiative that harnesses the competitive spirit to maximize employee engagement. The challenge serves companies interested in developing more meaningful and ongoing relationships with their select charities.

Corporate employees who joined the 2015 competition logged over 46,000 volunteer hours and raised more than $14 million for Chicago-area charities. We celebrated their hard work during an awards ceremony last February. Now we look ahead to the 2016 Challenge, which kicks off April 1,  and we invite even more corporations to do the “Cha Cha” on behalf of their favorite nonprofit.

The Chicago Charity Challenge champions community and team-building while providing benefits that aren’t typically offered by traditional corporate giving programs, such as tracking capabilities, networking opportunities and the incentive of competition. Craig Foster, the founder of the Charity Challenge, was passionate about building a nonprofit that takes a corporate approach to giving. As a business leader, Foster discovered that philanthropy has tangible benefits to a business, including customer and employee retention, and that the desire to win is a powerful motivator. Companies that participate in the challenge are able to take advantage of these offerings.

Illinois insurance provider Associated Agencies won the Helping Hand Award for its charity partner, the Jarrett Payton Foundation. Founded by the son of the late great Walter Payton, the foundation’s mission is to protect young people from the trauma of bullying and to teach students to honor differences. Associated Agencies employees volunteered at every single foundation fundraising event, and were pivotal in bringing a powerful voice against bullying to thousands of students in Chicagoland.

The Chicago Fire Soccer Club won the Philanthropy Award for its work in raising money to keep the programs of the Chicago Fire Foundation running smoothly, including Kicks for Kids, and its popular P.L.A.Y.S. (Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth, Soccer) Program, teaching social and emotional learning traits to over 100,000 local children this year. Fire employees raised an average of $301 per employee for this worthy cause.

Mesirow Financial captured the Community Impact Award by mentoring, consulting, teaching, feeding, rewarding and inspiring residents of Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood. This award rewards a company for serving a low- to moderate-income geographic community and making a substantial difference to its residents, and the employees of Mesirow Financial did just that. Connecting one-on-one with youth and providing critical support to their parents through a partnership with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and others, Mesirow employees devoted 855 volunteer hours as they worked to cultivate genuine relationships with Brighton Park residents, making a remarkable impact on families in a community that has much to offer our city.

The Issue Impact Award recognizes a challenger’s efforts to effectively advance a particular charitable cause. The 2015 winner was law firm Latham & Watkins, whose commitment to build stronger families was evident in the 13,559 hours and $9.25 million in funds and legal services they donated. The firm's signature program was a campaign to help teens examine and prevent violence through their partner nonprofit Do the Write Thing. From funding scholarships, to career counseling, to defending the rights of vulnerable young Chicagoans, the work of Latham & Watkins employees to support our city’s underserved youth was truly impressive.

The winner of the Chicago Charity Challenge’s highest honor, the Grand Prize Give Back Award, was Chicago-based baby product manufacturer Kolcraft, which won on behalf of its charity partner, March of Dimes. Kolcraft employees volunteered time and raised money to support research and treatment to improve the plight of families living with the impact of prematurity and birth defects. The company's 71 employees raised over $41,000 for the March of Dimes Lakefront Walk and held a variety of creative in-office fundraising and volunteer events, including everything from a carnival-themed company-wide competition, to making fleece blankets and care packages after work for parents with little ones in hospital neonatal intensive care units.

The Chicago Charity Challenge establishes a rare dynamic between companies and charities that sets the stage for service beyond episodic volunteering. It facilitates relationship-building and sustained giving that makes a difference for both businesses and their charity partners. And it capitalizes on the corporate community’s competitive spirit as a motivator to do more.

Is your Chicago company ready to accept the Challenge? Register for the 2016 Chicago Charity Challenge and reinvent your corporate giving efforts.

Image courtesy of the Chicago Charity Challenge 

Stacey Rago is executive director of the Chicago Charity Challenge. 

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