Philanthropy can become an integral part of the community

When the Be A Santa to a Senior Program launched in 2004, Home Instead Senior Care collected gifts for 186 seniors. In 2018, the number of seniors who received a gift through the charitable initiative surpassed 1,000.

“It has become such an integral program that our partners and social workers in the community depend on it,” says Therese Zdesar, CEO at the health service organization. “If we pulled it, we would have to find someone to continue the program, or something like it, to meet those unmet needs for seniors. We’re proud of that. You hope and pray that you can develop programs that make that kind of difference over time.”

Make it work

The project requires yearlong planning and coordination with community partners, local chambers of commerce and major local shopping malls. The challenge for Zdesar is to find a way to balance the work that is involved in running the program with the day-to-day operations of Home Instead Senior Care.

“The person who implements that program is my community service rep, whose job responsibilities also happen to be employee and client recruitment,” Zdesar says. “She would be putting in so many hours during that time for the program that sometimes we would see those numbers fall. We had to shift her being the primary person and divide the responsibilities so she could continue her focus on her work. It’s vitally important, but it can also be very taxing on your staff if you don’t look at other options to get it done.”

Support your people

Despite the difficulties, Zdesar says she’ll continue to work with her team to find ways to give back to the community.

“I do believe that giving back is an important part of every business,” Zdesar says. “Our employees work for us because they are looking for more than just a job. They want an opportunity to make an impact and influence others’ lives. They want to feel good about what they do.”

To that end, Home Instead Senior Care gives employees a chance to propose charities that it would like the organization to support.

“We hold focus groups with our employees and ask them about our culture and about the needs we can meet of theirs on a quarterly basis,” Zdesar says. “I’ll get a note across my desk about a project somebody is doing. Will you support this? It’s not just about supporting the cause. It’s about demonstrating a willingness to support something that is important to that employee.”

Find a partner

Organizations such as United Way can remove some of the stress that comes with finding time to give back, Zdesar says.

“When you find a community partner, you don’t have to put in all that effort to create a program of your own,” she says. “Find an organization that can support your effort to give back.”