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Healthy donations

Executives and employees of the Hawaii Medical Service Association find creative ways to raise money for charity

By Kristen Consillio

LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

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Hawaii Medical Service Association employees cheered and chanted for Mike Gold to begin dancing as they opened their pocketbooks to entice their chief executive to perform.

The CEO of the state's largest health insurer then led about a dozen executives in Zumba, the popular Latin-based dance, at the company's annual employee fundraising breakfast in June.

The breakfast generated more than $7,000 in tips from employees wanting to see their bosses' dance moves for a campaign to support the Aloha United Way. But that was just a portion of the $250,000 the company's employees raised for the charity in 2012 and one of more than half a dozen corporate-giving events sponsored by the health insurance firm.

Gold, who ditched his business attire to don workout clothes for the performance, also was maitre d' for the event, escorting employees to their tables, along with roughly 20 of his managers who served scrambled eggs, bagels and other healthful breakfast foods.

"Our annual employee breakfast is a fun way to support a worthy cause," said Gold, also an AUW board member like his predecessor, former HMSA CEO Bob Hiam. "Thanks to the generosity of our employees, we're able to make a real difference in the lives of local families and individuals in need. Supporting United Way is a statewide and year-round effort for us."

Each year, the company chooses a different theme. One year it was the 1950s from the movie "Grease," another was the psychedelic 1960s. Some years, the company also sponsors "white elephant" affairs, where executives, management and employees donate used items to resell.

"We look at it two ways: We feel that it's part of being a good corporate citizen, and it's helpful in terms of employee morale," said Janna Naka­gawa, HMSA senior vice president for corporate services, who spearheads the corporate-giving campaign. "We want to make sure that all of our employees are able to participate. One of the primary reasons is AUW supports the community similar to HMSA. We've always felt very connected with AUW."

In addition to an annual employee pledge card program, HMSA also sponsors about eight corporate-giving events, including a country market of local produce and goods and an employee craft fair scheduled for November. Employees pay a participation fee that goes to AUW and donate between 10 and 15 percent of their profits to the charity. Smaller fundraisers such as bake sales and plant sales also boost donations.

"Many companies have really embraced the opportunity that their Aloha United Way campaign brings to build morale and promote team spirit within their staff," said AUW President Kim Gennaula. "They've really gotten creative about their fundraising methods. The ones that are really successful are the ones that realize it's not about twisting someone's arm to give, but embracing the opportunity to have this be a team-building and fun experience."

HMSA's efforts are not in vain. Roughly 80 percent of its 1,600 employees participate in the pledge card campaign. The average employee contribution is more than $150 per year.

"Giving is a simple yet powerful way to make a difference in the lives of others," said Evan Patek, an HMSA health plan adviser. "I'm proud to help and be part of an organization that is interested in the welfare of the community."

Business analyst Verna Bays added, "It's about strengthening families, helping children succeed and giving us all a chance to live healthy lives."

HMSA, which has a goal this year to meet or exceed $250,000, won AUW's Leaders in Giving award this year for having the most employees contributing $1,000 or more.

Over the past 10 years, the company has raised more than $4.6 million for United Way, mostly from employees.

"We find that employees have a greater level of respect for their CEOs when they see the leadership in their company caring about causes in their community," Gennaula added. "When employees see their CEO get so excited that he's willing to put on a costume as part of his way of thanking them and getting them to give, I think that makes a real impact on them. It has a direct impact on the morale of that business."

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