June 16, 2017

MBAF's Tony Argiz participates in South Florida Business Journal's CEO roundtable on the benefits of philanthropy in business.

Few companies are large enough to make a multimillion-dollar donation to charity, but nearly every company is capable of benefiting the community through philanthropy.

In many cases, time can be equal in value to or more valuable than money. When employees volunteer or raise funds for a good cause, it helps the community and can boost workplace morale.

The trick is encouraging employees to buy into the culture of giving back without making it feel compulsory.

On June 2, the Business Journal hosted a CEO Roundtable with 12 top local executives to discuss how they foster philanthropy at their organizations. Editor-in-Chief Mel Meléndez moderated the discussion with the panelists, who lead companies in sectors including banking, technology and development. The event was sponsored by Comcast Business and Wells Fargo.

It was part of the Business Journal’s ongoing Roundtable series, where leading CEOs, CFOs, and HR executives discuss important topics of interest to readers.

As South Florida’s economy grows, more companies and individuals are in a position to give back to the community. And CEOs stress that doing so can have major benefits in the workplace.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, Americans donated more than $37 billion to charities in 2015, up 4 percent from the prior year.

Many people contributed in non-financial ways. Nearly 25 percent of U.S. residents volunteered in 2015, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service. However, South Florida ranked last among the 51 largest metropolitan areas, with only 13.4 percent of residents volunteering. The study also found that 31.3 percent of South Florida residents donated at least $25 to charity in 2015.

Local business leaders could certainly play a role in encouraging more people to engage in philanthropy.

Tony L. Argiz, chairman and CEO of accounting firm MBAF, said he came to Miami from Cuba at 9 years old without his parents, and the Archdiocese of Miami took care of him for five years until his parents arrived. Because of that experience, he makes sure employees understand the importance of charitable involvement.

“Employee morale improves and people want to be part of the team,” Argiz said. “In this day and age, you need a boost of morale with the employees to boost production. It really comes back in tons of benefits to the firm.”

When a staff volunteers together and their families join in, it brings the workplace closer together because they get to meet their co-workers’ spouses and children, said Gustavo Peña, managing partner of Coral Gables-based skilled staffing and consulting firm Ascendo Resources. Often after volunteer events, he will invite the employees to go out for lunch or have drinks.

Another benefit is goodwill for the brand, especially for a company that isn’t very well known, said Peña, whose company was founded in 2009 and is one of South Florida’s fastest-growing private businesses.

“We are a young company, so we can’t spend a lot of money as a business [on philanthropy], but can devote our time,” said Ken Comée, CEO of Miami-based health care IT firm CareCloud. “It is special connectivity, and family and philanthropy fits into that. It is the norm.”

The Pérez Art Museum Miami is itself a nonprofit, so its mission includes raising money for its programs. However, its 120 employees can also contribute to other causes. PAMM Director Franklin Sirmans said they have fundraising drives, and even employees making about $23,000 a year will give small contributions.

Participation in charity work, even in small ways, is important for retaining younger workers, the CEOs agreed. Most members of the millennial workforce are looking for a sense of purpose on the job, said Dr. Fernando Valverde, South Florida regional president with Humana. That’s why the health insurer has focused on charities that align with its mission of promoting health and wellness. Last year, Humana provided over 50,000 meals for Feeding South Florida, he said.

“Tying your mission with charities becomes very effective for employee morale,” Valverde said.

When putting out a call for donations or charitable work, that helps a company see who has the capability to become a leader.

Jay Pelham, president of TotalBank, said that, early in his career, when he first asked about becoming a manager, his boss told him to do some volunteer work and take a leadership role there first. If a person can motivate a team of unpaid volunteers to accomplish a goal, that demonstrates true leadership skills, Pelham said.

At Starmark, the charity work can get downright competitive. Peggy Nordeen, CEO of the Fort Lauderdale-based marketing and public relations firm, said the company has an annual fundraising drive for a lymphoma and leukemia charity, and each department tries to out-raise the others. They hold events such as bake sales and games to raise money, and the company matches the donations.

Meet the panel:

Tony L. Argiz, Chairman and CEO, MBAF
1450 Brickell Ave., 18th Floor, Miami 33131

Ken Comée, CEO, CareCloud
5200 Blue Lagoon Drive, Suite 900, Miami 33126

Rich Helber, President/CEO, Tropical Financial Credit Union
3050 Corporate Way, Miramar 33025

Harve A. Mogul, President/CEO, United Way of Miami-Dade
3250 S.W. Third Ave., Miami 33129-2712

Peggy Nordeen, CEO, Starmark
210 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale 33301

Jay Pelham, President, TotalBank
100 S.E. Second St., 32nd floor, Miami 33131

Gustavo Peña, Managing partner, Ascendo Resources
2 Alhambra Plaza, Suite 1220, Coral Gables 33124

Matthew Rieger, President/CEO, Housing Trust Group
3225 Aviation Ave., Suite 602, Miami 33133

Joseph L. Saka CEO, Berkowitz Pollack Brant
200 S. Biscayne Blvd., 6th and 7th floors, Miami 33131-5351

Franklin Sirmans, Director, Pérez Art Museum Miami
1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami 33132

Fernando Valverde, Regional President, Humana
3401 S.W. 160th Ave., Miramar 33027

Sam Zietz, CEO, TouchSuite
1081 Holland Drive, Boca Raton 33487

So whether it’s leading a team of volunteers at a food bank or leading a fundraising team with an ambitious goal, employees who excel at philanthropic activities are likely to perform well in the workplace, too.

“One of the responsibilities of CEOs is caring for a community,” said Harve Mogul, president and CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade, “understanding that part of your ability as a CEO is to educate and to involve people in the community – particularly in Miami, where we have challenges across the board.”

How to motivate employees for community work

Offer dollars, or perhaps doughnuts, as incentives and most employees will be driven to work hard. But the source of motivation for engaging in charity work isn’t quite as clear.

Many companies have a mission statement, and part of that should be giving back to the community in a significant way. It’s usually the CEO who decides how the charitable goals are accomplished. But that may not be the best method to motivate employees if the company really wants them to passionately participate in philanthropy.

Harve Mogul, president and CEO of the United Way of Miami-Dade, said millennials are turned off by corporate structure and would rather make their own decisions about which causes to support. When the employees are given more control, they feel empowered and the effort will be more successful, he said.

Richard Helber, president and CEO of 170-employee, Miramar-based Tropical Financial Credit Union, said it created an action team in each department. Once a month, each team selects a charity and decides how to raise funds for it. It might be a fundraising walk or donating fire alarms to the Red Cross.

“It is self-running now,” Helber said. “I want the credit union to support our events financially, and the employees to rally around each other. It’s not something management has to push.”

At Coral Gables-based skilled staffing and consulting firm Ascendo Resources, the company selects a “champion” to lead the charitable endeavor on their own, then talks with division leaders about the charities that would ultimately make the most sense for the company to support, managing partner Gustavo Peña said. The toughest part is asking young employees who are putting in long hours to dedicate more hours to volunteering. Peña said it’s best not to push it on people.

Housing Trust Group CEO Matthew Rieger said millennials are more interested in companies that have community benefits, as well as profits. That is a big selling point when the affordable housing developer is recruiting.

Ken Comée, CEO of Miami-based health care IT firm CareCloud, said his employees have found great satisfaction in working with CODeLLA, an organization that teaches young Latinas to code. Those mentoring opportunities have resonated with many employees, he said.

“It’s not so much about the owner writing the check,” said Joseph Saka, CEO of accounting firm Berkowitz Pollack Brant in Miami. “When they are excited about something, they can prioritize and balance. You can give them the time and be creative with flexibility [so you] have a tremendous culture of giving without having to necessarily write a check.”

When deciding which organizations to help, Saka said the deciding factor should be what action would have the most positive impact in the community. This especially applies to organizations that are overlooked in fundraising.

“We need organizations like the United Way to invest dollars in places that are important, but can’t vie for support from a popularity point of view or an emotional point of view,” Mogul said. “The more, as a CEO, you can help guide those kinds of choices, the better off our community will be.”

Infusing a company with the culture of philanthropy

Pursuing philanthropic efforts shouldn’t feel like a chore. While it may not be effortless, charitable engagement should come naturally as part of a company’s culture.

The makeup of a company’s workforce is a crucial part of the formula.

Sam Zietz, CEO of Boca Raton-based point-of-sale systems provider TouchSuite, said it hires half on talent and half on culture.

“If people aren’t a good cultural fit, we don’t hire them, no matter how much talent they have,” Zietz said. “They wouldn’t have joined us if they didn’t have that mindset to start with. People are looking to join an organization for a higher purpose.”

TouchSuite engages in charitable activities that mesh with its mission, such as mentoring and coaching in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, and providing homeless people with hospital job skills by operating a point-of-sale system.

Starmark also applies its business skills for charity. Peggy Nordeen, CEO of the Fort Lauderdale-based marketing firm, said it has created websites pro bono for charities that address homelessness. She has invited the heads of organizations that work with the homeless to speak to her employees so they understand the impact of their contributions and learn what else they can do to truly make a difference.

“It’s not about the charity; it’s about feeling what you can get out of giving,” said Joseph Saka, CEO of accounting firm Berkowitz Pollack Brant in Miami. “So if you see someone not benefiting from giving, have the conversation about how important it is. Eventually, if they are the right type of individual, they will see it. That is part of our job to teach that.”

Tony L. Argiz, CEO of accounting and consulting firm MBAF, said that when he first joined the firm, he learned about philanthropy from its executives, who had leadership positions in national Jewish organizations. At first, he questioned why they committed so much time to nonprofit organizations, but now he’s heavily involved in many charitable boards. Argiz said he encourages employees to take on such leadership roles in nonprofits.

“They respect a CEO who gives them the ability to do something they are passionate about,” TotalBank President Jay Pelham said. “The CEO should be a person willing to show passion and energy to be involved.”

Click here to read the article on South Florida Business Journal.