Baird takes giving to another level for 100th anniversary

Steve Booth, president and CEO of Baird, participates in a Baird Gives Back Week event.
Steve Booth, president and CEO of Baird, participates in a Baird Gives Back Week event.

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:36 pm

Participation in Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.’s annual Baird Gives Back week has grown steadily in recent years, but there was an extra reason for the company’s employees to participate in the annual week of volunteer activities this year. Actually, it was more like 100,000 reasons.

The Milwaukee-based wealth and asset management, investment banking and private equity firm offered all participating associates the chance to win $1,000 for the nonprofit of their choice. The employee-owned company then selected 100 winners over 14 weeks to designate a donation recipient.

“I think there definitely was a bit more excitement this year both with the 100 days of giving and the Baird culture right now is in a celebratory mode so there was just a lot of excitement with signups,” said Samantha Panella, co-chair of Baird Gives Back.

Panella said participation in the annual volunteer week was already trending up but the firm wanted something that would continue the celebration from Baird Gives Back week in May up to the company’s 100th anniversary celebration in June and beyond.

The result was around 7,800 volunteer hours by 2,200 associates, up from 6,000 hours by 1,660 associates in 2018.

Audrey Warner, director of the Baird Foundation, said it was important to have associates direct where the money would go by selecting 100 volunteers at random.

“We could certainly go write one check, but the associates in these cases have deep passion for the organizations where they might be involved already,” Warner said.

She said that in one case an employee knew immediately she wanted her $1,000 donation to go to the Humane Society of Sheboygan County after volunteers there had put in extra effort to help find her lost cat.

“There were lots of stories like that,” Warner said, adding that many employees had volunteered with organizations previously and the donation was a way of showing their commitment to the nonprofit.

Baird Gives Back Week itself is a big undertaking. Each year, a volunteer committee within the company comes together to pick 30 to 40 Milwaukee-area organizations for employees to volunteer at during a set week in May. A subcommittee also works with Baird’s branches and global offices, each of which selects its own nonprofit to volunteer at during the week.

“We pick everything from the smallest, newest organizations that need the $100 donation or the three people that show up to the bigger ones, the national organizations,” said Erik Peterson, co-chair of Baird Gives Back. “We try to make sure there are opportunities there for all organizations to be part of getting five Baird volunteers in blue shirts showing up on a Tuesday morning to work in their soup kitchen.”

Panella said the excitement from Baird Gives Back Week did carry over to the firm’s 100th anniversary celebrations. Associates from all over the country worked together during a welcome party at the Wisconsin Center to pack 3,000 backpacks with hygiene kits to be sent all over the country.

“The lines were long,” she said. “There was so much excitement around it.”

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He spent also five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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