The Centennial Group: Simple and Effective Business Philanthropy By Rachael Curtis
There are many companies today that have a heart to give back to the community, but aren’t sure where they should start. The process can be daunting, and you might be wondering if engaging their employees in giving would yield productive results. We checked in with a company who not only gets involved with their local community, but also effectively unites the office through philanthropy, to see how they began this process of giving and how it’s affected the company culture.
Matt Hanson, founder and president of The Centennial Group, serves as a shining example of how to implement philanthropy in the workplace. The Centennial Group is an employee benefits broker and human resource advisory firm based out of Costa Mesa, California. For 15 years, The Centennial Group has been crucial in assisting middle-market businesses with navigating the choppy waters of employee benefits. Apart from their success as a firm, The Centennial Group has also made major strides in the area of philanthropy. We had a chance to sit down with Matt and gain some insights on how he incorporates giving in the workplace, and learn about the effects that philanthropy has on the employees at Centennial.
Co.tribute: In what ways does The Centennial Group give back to the community and how do the employees get involved?
Matt Hanson:Historically, we’ve included philanthropy in our team building exercises to get people involved and excited about what they’re doing. We’ve worked with the Jimmy Carter Work Projects for Habitat for Humanity, we’ve all gone and done some cooking at the Ronald McDonald House, and we’ve done work with a local organization called Precious Lambs Pre-School. We’ve also always had a matching gifts program that encourages employees to support the organizations they are passionate about and believe in. There’s always been a lot of diversity there, and it’s really neat to see people passionate about so many different things. What the employees do is submit the request for their organization, I approve it, and then we send the matching grant directly to the organization.
Co.tribute: Tell us a little more about your involvement with Precious Lambs Pre-School.
Matt Hanson:Precious Lambs is a place where we were able to connect with somebody at a grassroots level who was very passionate about taking care of homeless, preschool aged kids. Their passion was to provide a safe educational environment, and to provide an exceptional level of care and education for these kids. We wanted to support that and help make it happen. The fact that they are a small, local, passion-driven organization producing great results was something that we were really happy to be a part of, and it’s been exciting to see that our contribution has had such an impact.
Co.tribute: Why is philanthropy important for The Centennial Group?
Matt Hanson:Well, generosity is one of the core values of Centennial. For me, as the founder, it’s always been a passion. I was the founding president for the Long Beach affiliate of Habitat for Humanity (that affiliate is now the Greater Los Angeles affiliate) and was really inspired and impacted by two different people in my life. Those people were Millard Fuller (the founder of Habitat for Humanity) and Tony Campolo (founder of the EAPE). I heard Tony speak at Forest Home, and it inspired me and my now-wife to go to Philadelphia to work with kids in the inner city. It really challenged my thinking around the roles, responsibilities and opportunities of a young person in business.
It’s now a core value at Centennial, and it has been since the beginning. We take initiative to do something together as a company outside of ourselves at least twice a year, and it’s always been a really fantastic and meaningful experience.
Co.tribute: What impact has philanthropy had on The Centennial Group?
Matt Hanson:It’s had an impact in a lot of ways. It helps to broadcast our values, so that people who are attracted to that kind of thing are attracted to us as well. We want people who’ve got a spirit of generosity and giving, which is what our company is really made up of.On top of that, the philanthropic team building exercises promote an amazing team connection, a great sense of camaraderie, and everyone leaves with a bigger sense of purpose. It connects us all to stories that help us realize how fortunate we are in our circumstances. When you are aware of and grateful for your circumstances, you’re generally just a happier person all around, and I believe that has really contributed to the atmosphere and culture of Centennial in a positive way.
Co.tribute: How has your experience with Co.tribute contributed to your philanthropy and employee engagement experience?
Matt Hanson:Principally, Co.tribute has helped around employee engagement. The matching grant program that we had previously required us to publicize and push any sort of philanthropic effort onto our employees. If people had it in them to give right at that moment, they would. However, sometimes people would either miss a memo or put it to the side for later and forget about it, and then miss the opportunity to give altogether. In the model with Co.tribute, we are seeing a much higher level of participation. Our belief is that when people want to give and own the decision of where they give, it makes them feel good to contribute.
Co.tribute has brought higher penetration, and it’s been a massively good thing. The fact that the opportunity to give back is being brought to our employees on a regular interval keeps it fresh in their minds, and I believe over time it will help build conversation and a community around philanthropy in the office. Everyone will be able to see what causes their co-workers are passionate about and contributing to, and will be able to align with each other and work toward making a difference. It’s been a really positive thing for us, and we are very happy with the results.
It was a privilege to speak with Matt and learn how The Centennial Group is giving back to their local community. They are a great example of a company who has mastered the art of simple and effective business philanthropy. We hope that other local companies will follow in their footsteps!