How Wells Fargo puts corporate, employee values into action

Editor's note: Krista Van Tassel will be conducting a workshop on “Using Strategic Philanthropy to Promote Employee Engagement” at the San Francisco GreenBiz Forum.

One hot Saturday in April 2012, in California’s Central Valley farm country, I found myself on a rooftop installing a solar electric system for a family of agricultural workers. My fellow installers were bankers from two Wells Fargo branches in the Fresno area.

Farm country? Solar? Bankers?

That same month, Wells Fargo released a set of environmental commitments — to be achieved by 2020 — that include reducing the company’s environmental impact, financing the transition to a greener economy and encouraging stronger and more sustainable communities. One of the beneficiaries of our community and philanthropy commitment was GRID Alternatives, a California-based nonprofit that installs solar electric systems for low-income families. This was one of its clients, the Martinez family, and we had come to pitch in.

Many large companies spend a lot of time finding and organizing appropriate corporate volunteer activities. The most effective engagement programs are ones that both inspire large numbers of team members and demonstrate the company’s values and priorities to a broader audience.

With more than 265,000 team members serving one in three households in the United States, Wells Fargo is focused on leading positive change through an integrated approach to sustainability that starts with its team members. Through our Green Team Program, our employees take the lead in finding projects that speak to them. A Wells Fargo Green Team member first introduced us to GRID Alternatives in 2005 and in a similar fashion our Green Team in Milwaukee, Wis., has forged a partnership with Growing Power, a local nonprofit focused on sustainable urban agriculture and youth education. Our Puget Sound Green Team works with Seattle University on its community farming and food bank initiative.

Next page: Making employee engagement count

Wells Fargo employees have been volunteering with GRID Alternatives since 2005, getting on the roof to learn new skills, build stronger working relationships with their teammates, and be involved in their communities. Volunteers over the years have included Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Executive Vice President Pat Callahan and Executive Vice President David Weber. Wells Fargo also provided GRID with an initial $600,000 in grants to support both its solar installation program and its workforce development efforts. In September 2012, Wells Fargo announced a five-year, $2 million commitment to help the organization take its model national.

The expansion was kicked off with installations for 12 low-income families in a Habitat for Humanity development outside of Denver with help from more than 30 local Wells Fargo employee volunteers. Abdelati and Malika Moumen were one of the families that received a solar electric system. Immigrants from Morocco, they have made huge personal sacrifices to help their three children succeed in the United States. Their daughter, Fatimah, a business student at University of Colorado, Denver, spoke during the launch event about the value of opportunity and the impact the modest savings from their system will have on their lives and their community. For the Wells Fargo volunteers, who got to work on the roof with Fatimah and her brother, Zackaria, the experience was tremendously rewarding.

Often, as with GRID Alternatives, the most popular and effective employee-initiated projects become integrated into our wider employee engagement program. With GRID Alternatives, we were easily able to plug into the nonprofit's existing volunteer model to expand both our Green Teams and environmental volunteer opportunities across California. GRID projects are some of the most popular volunteer events that our teams host, and we leverage the organization’s annual Solarthon blitz-build events throughout California to launch new Green Teams, or use them as an opportunity to help existing Green Teams with recruitment.

What makes this model successful is that GRID hosts a predictable program for our volunteers. It is not easy to manage large-scale volunteer opportunities, but GRID does this quite well by offering a standard schedule for the day and pre-event training so that everyone arrives ready to start work and the work ends on time and as expected. As a corporate volunteer partner, we appreciate that approach as it makes it easy for us to promote this work to our busy Green Team leaders.

Next page: Community and environmental sustainability in action