First launched last September, PLANADVISER’s Advisers Giving Back series has at this point profiled a dozen different firms’ efforts to give back and invest in their local, regional and even international communities.
Some of the profile subjects, such as CAPTRUST or CBIZ, are large national firms that have established independent programs and foundations to coordinate their sizable giving efforts. Others, given the smaller footprint of the firm, do more localized giving that still has a tremendous impact.
“I think we fall into the latter camp,” says Attila Toth, partner and co-founder at Portfolio Evaluations in Warren, New Jersey. “We are not a huge organization that can create a standalone foundation at this point. Maybe in the future. Right now, our giving efforts are all about the experience we can provide to our employees in giving back to the communities that we all care deeply about.”
That is not to say that Portfolio Evaluations’ efforts have been small or insignificant. In fact, the firm has been an advocate of investing in the local community since its inception back in 1992. In its very first years, the firm got involved in the local March for Dimes, for example.
“They do a huge national fundraiser every year and we are always thrilled to participate,” Toth says. “Their march always takes place on a Saturday, and it has allowed us to also bring in the families and children of our staff to participate. I actually have a picture here of my oldest daughter being pulled along in a little red wagon, when she was just 2 years old, which was printed in the newspaper. I still cherish those memories.”
Also from day one, the firm’s staff has maintained a meaningful partnership with a local food bank.
“A few days of the year they deem it a family day, and we can bring along our kids to box pasta and prepare meals,” Toth says. “The director of the food bank always speaks with us and the children about where our work is going—showing us how we could help families that were down and out.”
Toth and his firm embody a common theme that has emerged in the Advisers Giving Back profiles—these giving efforts tend to go all the way back to the vision of a founder or somebody else highly placed in the organization during its early days. Such firms make social responsibility a part of their DNA over time. Another common thread is the importance of the impact on staff and the workers within firms and how positive it can be to create a firm that is more than just a group of people sitting together in the office.
“When I think back to the start of our firm, I can say the giving back events were so great because it was an opportunity to get to know our staff better, along with their spouses and children,” Toth says. “That’s how you build a sense of family in the firm. We always felt that was important, and it has really served its purpose well.”
Portfolio Evaluations took its giving efforts to the next level in 2013 by creating a dedicated charitable engagement committee that today consists of eight people.
“We get together at least twice a year, and one of the big things we work on is conducting a survey of our own people,” Toth says. “It’s just a few questions. We ask our employees about their passions in terms of reaching back out to the community. Is it cleaning the beaches and parks? Something outside and hands on? Might it be something more intellectual? Or maybe helping people who are struggling with drug and alcohol problems? Would it be better to do something during a weekday or on the weekend? These sorts of questions.”
Toth says the surveys have been extremely helpful in boosting engagement.
“All the events that took place early on were almost always during the weekend,” he recalls. “But over time, we were hiring more people who had children, and it was hard for them because of things like weekend sports and family trips. We were always comfortable with the idea of allowing people to use their working time to give back, and so the survey showed us that we should indeed hold most of our giving events during the week. Even better, it has shown our people that we want to help them pursue their passions.”
In terms of advice for his peers who want to get involved in community, Toth says the first and most important step is to ask what the goals are.
“We created a mission statement,” he explains. “For us, the purpose of our mission statement was to say that we would differentiate and separate the employees’ focus and passion versus our corporate philanthropy goals. Our mission statement was created by looking at both of those themes.”
From the corporate perspective, the firm may choose to, for example, participate in an annual golf tournament to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project. One of the firm’s clients is UNICEF, so the firm, from a corporate perspective, is committed to supporting its cause.
“And then on the other hand, we have a distinct effort dedicated to our employees’ passions,” Toth says. “In that sense, our giving is not about getting the recognition from the outside. It’s about getting the recognition from the inside. We want our employees to know and feel proud about what kind of firm they are working for. When we are interviewing new people, we let them know from the start what kind of organization we are. It’s about communicating our culture.”
Looking forward, Toth says the firm is studying ways to provide financial education to more people in need.
“There are already some of us within our firm that have always been involved in this effort, so we are now aiming to get serious about how to do this at the corporate level,” he says.