by Joe Henry | November 29, 2016
Incentive merchandise is often about rewarding top employees -- but what about giving to those most in need? A handful of programs are designed to assist those who need the most help.

The aptly named Helping Hands Partners, based out of Chicago, was started by a now-retired incentive house owner. It's a non-profit whose merchandise includes backpacks and totes, jewelry, home products, tech accessories like laptop and smartphone sleeves, and spa products like body lotions, bath melts, and various soaps. And all of Helping Hands' merchandise is created locally.

So when someone redeems their points for a Helping Hands product, she's also supporting members of the underserved communities who crafted it.

 And that's one of the key aspects of Helping Hands: It provides jobs and training to those in need. "Our whole goal is to lift communities," says Dena Hirschberg, Helping Hands' vice president of sales and marketing. The company does this by offering job development programs. "Each project and incentive program creates jobs with barriers to employment, and to a sustainable livelihood," Hirschberg explains.

And that ability to give back is attracting people to Helping Hands' products. Consumers, Hirschberg notes, are increasingly interested in frequenting businesses that exhibit corporate and social responsibility.

"On the incentive side, this has become a very important consideration," she says. "So products that people are redeeming points for and that incorporate social responsibility are creating very positive results." This is particularly big with Millennials, who look at labels to see if a company is socially responsible.

But the term "socially responsible" can be a misnomer, Hirschberg says.

"Many companies believe they're socially responsible because they're eco-conscious," she explains. "We say that in addition to the planet, people in communities need to be sustainable. We provide generational change to raise people out of poverty."

For companies who want to directly fund communities in need, Oxfam America has a corporate giving program. This allows businesses to sponsor bulk gifts. An individual donor might buy, for instance, a goat or a sheep for a village. But Oxfam's corporate giving program lets businesses buy those items in bulk.

Another option includes sponsoring "featured gifts" which include major projects like a vegetable garden, a well that provides clean water, a school, an investment into a small business, or even buying a Christmas donkey.

Finally, Oxfam offers a matching program. Select a gift in Oxfam's catalog and anytime someone buys it, you match it dollar-for-dollar.