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Encouraging employees to give

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Kraft takes matching program a step further, gives workers control.

By Ret Boney

At Kraft Foods, the employee-involvement program not only encourages workers to give to charity, it hands them the reins to a chunk of corporate cash.

First, the company sponsors a matching-gift program in which it matches every dollar an employee donates to any nonprofit, up to $15,000 per employee each year.

And through its Kraft Employee Fund, it lets worker decide how to invest $1 million of the company’s money, plus millions more from employees, in local communities.

“Both programs are part of our global employee involvement program,” says Laura Freveletti, senior manager of global community involvement for the company. “One of our core strategies is to act responsibly and give back to communities while supporting our employees’ interests.”

Through the matching gift program last year, 6,500 employees made about 11,500 gifts totaling almost $3 million to about 3,200 groups, all matched by Kraft.

But the Kraft Employee Fund takes their involvement even further.

The company contributes $1 million a year to the fund, and employees last year contributed another $2.45 million, the combined total of which was awarded in grants by a committee of 60 employees, says Freveletti.

The fund is set up as a stand-alone nonprofit, with a separate board made up of company executives and rank-and-file employees.

The program was created by Kraft’s parent company, Altria, when it decided to jettison its United Way workplace campaign in the wake of intense public scrutiny of the charity, says Freveletti.

While some locations, including one of it’s largest in Madison, Wis., maintain United Way campaigns, Kraft started its Employee Fund program in the Chicago area in 1999.

It expanded to the Northeast region in 2004, and since then employees have awarded grants totaling more than $20 million to local community nonprofits.

The process begins when employees vote on areas they want to support, with the company naming additional issues that fall in line with company priorities.

Current focus areas chosen by employees include children’s services, youth development and elderly services, says Freveletti, while the fund’s board of directors selected fighting hunger and supporting healthy lifestyles for children.

Then each fall, employees nominate themselves to serve three-year terms on an employee council, which evaluates grants and selects nonprofits to receive fund ranging from $5,000 to $40,000.

“We look for good representation in terms of gender, race, seniority and level within the company,” says Freveletti, noting the council contains hourly workers and administrative assistants as well as higher-level employees.

Then comes an annual employee fundraising campaign, to which six in 10 eligible Chicago-area employees contributed last year.

The employee council, which has involved about 200 employees over the years, then does the work of reviewing, scoring and selecting grantees.

The effort is capped off each spring with office-wide volunteer days in the Chicago and Northeast regions, where employees help out with the groups they’ve chosen to fund.

The program has revitalized workplace giving at Kraft, says Freveletti.

Contributions to United Way had been decreasing before the creation of the employee fund, in part because employees felt little connection to the program, she says.

But after the employee fund was launched, Kraft saw an immediate jump in participation and donations, she says, followed by gradual growth in contributions since.

“From an employee standpoint it allows them to develop a number of professional skills, including public speaking and working in groups,” says Freveletti. “And it has given us a degree of control over our investments, grants and visibility we didn’t have through United Way.”

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