This post was originally published in Portland Business Journal’s Corporate Philanthropy Guide on October 16, 2020. You can see the original article here (subscription required).

The rules were clear, the results unexpected.

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, Vista Capital Partners CEO Doug Johanson handed out $300 to each of our company’s 26 employees. He challenged us to give the money away to somebody. Anybody. Any organization. No strings attached.

There were two stipulations: At least one other person had to be involved in deciding what to do with the money. And we had to share our stories with the company.

Johanson called it the $300 “Happiness is Only Real When Shared” Giveaway, and it was so meaningful that we’ll be doing it again this year.

“My goal was to bring giving closer to home.”

A departure from our company’s everyday philanthropy, which in 2019 included donating 3% of all profits to 87 local nonprofits, the giveaway sent ripples of goodwill through the office.

“My goal in creating the challenge,” shares Johanson, “was to bring giving closer to home. I wanted employees, who already give generously of their time to local charities such as Friends of the Children and The Dougy Center, to experience on an even more visceral level the rewards in helping others.”

The stories that emerged ran the gamut, from deeply personal to civic-minded.

One employee gave the money to a former colleague, a teacher whose position had been eliminated. A mother of four, she used the donation to purchase a much-needed dishwasher. Another co-worker anonymously gave the money to an elderly couple from church struggling to make ends meet—after a lifetime of their own generous giving.

As a chemo pal mentor through the Children’s Cancer Association, an organization affiliated with Doernbecher, one of our advisors gave his $300 to the hospital’s holiday giving tree. Still another shared her gift with a close friend’s mother, who had recently been diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. At the time, she was looking forward to the arrival of a second grandchild.

“I felt a complete sense of gratitude and pride.”

While we all did something different with the money, the power of helping others touched us all.

“I felt a complete sense of gratitude and pride working for a company that not only gives back, but also empowers and encourages its employees to do the same,” shared administrative assistant Karen Youngs.

Advisor Chris Roberts echoed the sentiment. “I appreciated the chance to make this decision with my girlfriend, who works at Doernbecher. It made giving all the more meaningful.”

These weren’t the only benefits we experienced. According to Ed Frauenheim, Director of Research and Content at Great Place to Work, giving back is linked to increased employee enthusiasm and greater employee retention. Employees who believe their companies give back to the community are 13 times more likely to look forward to coming to work.

On this score, I’d say Vista shines.

In 2017, our company embarked on a unique multi-year partnership with Every Child Oregon, an organization that connects community members with vulnerable children and families across the state.

Managed by Vista’s six-member Community Service Committee, the partnership has seen our team remodel family spaces at Child Welfare offices, assemble welcome boxes for new foster families, and host hospitality lunches for the Department of Human Services staff that support them.

This year, we’re helping Every Child provide laptops for children learning at home and groceries for families in need.

Those who are happiest do the most for others.

In addition to ongoing giving, the $300 challenge, and our partnership with Every Child, Vista also matches employee cash or time donations up to $500 per person. And in 2020, we’re moving to align community giving with organizations that support racial justice and financial literacy for underserved populations in Oregon.

If, as American educator and author Booker T. Washington once said, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others,” I’d say Vista is well on its way to achieving our mission of building happier and more prosperous lives.