Shelby Stoolman

Shelby Stoolman with Lamb Weston shares how they developed and executed their “Pay it Forward” employee giving program

We really wanted to build into our overarching giving program a way to show employees that we care about what they care about. Shelby Stoolman
In 2018, as they were preparing to launch their foundation, Shelby Stoolman — Director of Communications and President of the Lamb Weston Foundation — and her team recognized they needed to put together a strategy around corporate giving. They wanted to put together something comprehensive that employees could get behind as the giving program for the company.

They started by talking to their executive team and surveying employees to find out which causes are most important to them and which causes they felt were a fit for the company.

Through those surveys, it came out that employees thought the best fit for the company was the issue of hunger, but that issue didn't necessarily overlap with what employees cared about and supported in their own lives.

“We really wanted to build into our overarching giving program a way to show employees that we care about what they care about,” she said.

To solve that need, Shelby and her team developed the “Pay it Forward” program, which launched alongside their foundation in November 2018.

For the first iteration of the program — which ran for four weeks and aimed to engage every Lamb Weston employee — they leveraged their giving portal (Benevity) and funded every employee account with $50, which they could then donate to any eligible charity in the system.

“It gave employees a ton of freedom to make a donation to something they care about,” said Shelby. And, with 6,500 employees in the U.S. and Canada (where they ran the program), that adds up to a big impact.

But, as they were looking at building out the program, Shelby and her team had to figure out how to effectively engage both their office staff and hourly staff.

According to Shelby, 70 percent of their employees fall into the hourly staff category, working in their manufacturing facilities across the country.

“They're not sitting at a computer every day, so we had this big challenge of how to get them onto the giving portal so they can take advantage of the program,” she said. “And, even though our official target for the program was 50-percent participation, we wanted to hit 100 percent.”

To engage with employees at their manufacturing sites, they leveraged champions at each location to advocate for the program.

We identified location champions -- two to three people at each facility -- that really are passionate about giving. Shelby Stoolman
“We identified location champions — two to three people at each facility — who really are passionate about giving and said, ‘We'll champion this program for you, help people get onto the system, and help explain the program to them,'” said Shelby.

They gave those champions tools and resources to help them along the way and provided daily percentage reports on staff participation for their sites.

Shelby said they found a lot of those champions from pre-existing programs at those facilities that work to give back to their communities. “Knowing we had those groups, we put out a call to our facility managers and asked for recommendations,” she said. “We filled out the roster pretty quickly.”

Once they were ready to launch the program, they put together a comprehensive announcement to employees.

To announce it to salaried office staff, they created a short video explaining how it works, sent out a company-wide email, and posted it on their company intranet.

“We also used some print materials, like posters, postcards with information about the program, and a desktop calendar highlighting the programs we were introducing and when they were going to be launched,” said Shelby.

At their manufacturing facilities, they relied more on on-site champions and built out a resource library for them — including printed materials and posters, as well as one-pagers and overviews in different languages they could use to promote the program.

They also incentivized their offices and manufacturing facilities with a plan to donate $2,500 to the communities of the top participating locations.

It was a different format than a lot of our leaders had experienced before, but they believed in the program and thought it was the right way to go. Shelby Stoolman
“We were originally planning to give to one manufacturing facility and one office location,” she said. “But we saw our locations really wanting to get that incentive and, when we finished up the program, six facilities had over 90-percent participation and more than one location hit 100 percent.”

In response to that turnout, they donated the $2,500 incentive to every location that got 90-percent participation or higher.

At the end of the four-week period, they saw 60-percent participation across the board.

“We were thrilled about that number for our first run with Pay it Forward,” said Shelby. In total, they donated approximately $250,000 to more than 900 charities across the U.S. and Canada.

Via email, they shared the top 10 list of charities supported through the program back to their employees — as well as the total dollars donated and the number of charities.

They were also able to see every charity that employees supported through the giving portal, which gave them a good sense of where people's passions lie.

“It was really great to see things across the spectrum that our foundation, from a programmatic standpoint, wouldn't support with grant dollars,” she said. “Because we have a strategic direction and a focus on hunger, we don't support things that fall outside of that with larger grants.”

For example, through Pay it Forward, they donated more than $25,000 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. “That's not something we would have done otherwise because it's not a direct fit for us strategically. But, collectively through the efforts of our employees, we were able to do that. I think that's pretty powerful,” Shelby said.

According to Shelby, a big part of their success came from leadership support.

“It was a different format than a lot of our leaders had experienced before, but they believed in the program and thought it was the right way to go and were very supportive from the start. That support made a huge difference.”

She also spotlighted the work and effort of the champions and the leadership teams at their facilities that believed in the program and went the extra mile to get people on board.

Moving forward, Shelby and her team plan to run the program annually around Thanksgiving and continue to grow their participation and impact.

We leveraged our technology platform to filter and ensure our eligibility requirements were met. Shelby Stoolman
“We're planning to learn best practices from those facilities that had such great success to better understand some of the things they did to make it work,” she said.

They are also hoping to find ways to incorporate their workforces in Asia and Australia in a future iteration of the program.

“At this point, we're not able to execute the program with them because there's a lot of complexity associated with international donations,” she said. “But we're hoping to find the right balance and to understand what's going on in those communities to be able to include them in the future.”

For anyone looking to experiment with a similar program, Shelby emphasized the importance of understanding the eligibility requirements for the nonprofits you want to support.

“We leveraged our technology platform to filter and ensure our eligibility requirements were met,” she said. “But working out those requirements and how you're going to make sure they're followed on the outset is really important. The technology that's available now is really good for aiding in those kinds of programs.”

But, after that work was done, Shelby said the program was met with excitement and support from across the company.

“To see that level of excitement was really encouraging,” she said. “It's one thing for employees to feel like their company is doing the right things and giving back to communities, but to give them the dollars and say, ‘You know your community best, and we want to support what matters to you' was a new way for us to look at giving in our communities. And it really paid off for us.”

Shelby Stoolman has been a founder of the CSR Board since 2019. You can follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.