A little company thinks big when it comes to giving

I was intrigued by a recent press release from Hospice Southeastern Connecticut saying that the organization received a donation of $4,000 from Sheffield Pharmaceuticals of New London.

It's not a huge amount of money in the world of charitable giving around here.

Indeed, when I checked with Hospice, they said they generally plan on raising about $500,000 a year, about 9 percent of the organization's operating budget.

The extra donations go in part to funding care and services for patients and their families not covered by insurance, things like social work, therapy, bereavement support, even help with household bills like food, heat and groceries.

So, I wondered, how did Sheffield decide to donate generously to this worthy cause? The $4,000 is significant, if not remarkable.

Christine LaCoursiere, director of human resources for the small manufacturer on Broad Street in New London, fielded my call asking about the company's charitable giving.

It turns out, LaCoursiere explained, Sheffield has an unusual and interesting program for making donations, one overseen by a committee of employees.

It began in 2009, when management got too busy running the company to concentrate on charitable donations.

LaCoursiere recruited a committee of six employees, who set about approving a mission statement for giving away money.

Titled "We Can and Do Make a Difference," the statement is just two paragraphs long and promises, among other things, to "share our success in support of local education, first responders and those in need."

The committee of six, representing all 120 or so of the company's employees, meets regularly to sort through and discuss requests for donations and to decide which organizations will receive Sheffield donations.

LaCoursiere said the amount of money varies from year to year, depending on how well the company is doing, and when business is going well the committee may be asked to give more away as the year progresses.

They donated about $20,000 last year to local causes, she said.

Some recurring donations are being established. They have developed a New London scholarship fund, for instance, giving away $1,000 to each successful recipient.

LaCoursiere said employees seem to like to be involved and participate as the company chooses how to give back to the community.

"They like to be involved and feel empowered, like they are part of it," she said.

The donation this year to Hospice from Sheffield was the second of its kind. The employees agreed to give the same amount last year.

In a way, LaCoursiere said, that was an easy decision for employees sorting through a lot of requests for donations. "Hospice, we feel, has touched just about everyone in one way or the other," she said.

That's true. And yet not everyone gets to agree to have their company give money to Hospice.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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