The topic of giving back to charity continues to creep into business websites and magazines time and again...and for good reason! In addition to the emotional reward of making a difference, charitable giving is an excellent way to increase your marketing efforts, receive positive press, and generate new networking opportunities.

But just as important as increased exposure, partnering with a charity gives you a platform to engage your staff and renew their sense of pride in their skills.

It's not all about giving money. Yes, customers are 85 percent more likely to buy a product that is associated with a charity. Sure, you could simply donate a portion of your proceeds to a wonderful non-profit--and that's great! But if you want to reap the full benefits of partnering with a charity, you'll find a project that gets your employees involved and taps into their unique superpowers.

The Chicago Charity Challenge is a great example. Starting May 1st, this nonprofit volunteer and fundraising competition is teaming businesses with charities to motivate, support and reward employee giving. Employees work together through the year to impact an issue or community and win money awards for their charity partner.

Throughout the year, all volunteer hours and efforts are logged and tracked through an online system, so participants can see how they measure up to others in the challenge. Because, hey, a little friendly competition makes it more fun!

Executive director Stacey Rago says the Chicago Charity Challenge was created to deepen the relationship between corporations and the charities they partner with. It has already lead to amazing things.

When I sat down with Stacey, I was extremely moved by all her stories of success, featuring major brands like Starbucks and Harley Davidson who are doing wonders for local communities. But I think my favorite case study involved a firm full of lawyers and teenagers from low-income families.

Paul Hastings won the challenge's $10,000 grand prize in 2014 for the work the law firm did with Christopher House, a family of schools that provides kids in low-income areas a high-quality education--preparing them for success. With 100 percent participation by attorneys and staff, the firm worked directly with teens to encourage careers associated with the practice of law. This was extremely inspiring to the students who formed a bond with their attorney mentors.

The lawyers also used their legal skills to provide all contract negotiations for the new school being built by Christopher House--donating hundreds of hours of time.

"There was a unique sense of team building that developed between Paul Hastings and Christopher House," says Greg Spitzer,  a partner at Paul Hastings. "We got to know each other at a deeper level--which is much different than simply having a single charity event or day of giving for the firm."

Thanks to Paul Hastings's efforts, the new school was built for Christopher House and is making a difference in the lives of kids and their families every day. Organizations like the Chicago Charity Challenge aren't only changing the lives of those in need--but are also transforming company cultures for good. What better way to unite a staff than to give them the opportunity to use their collective talents to change lives?

Correction: A previous version of this column misstated the title of Chicago Charity Challenge's Stacey Rago. She is the organization's executive director.

Published on: Apr 10, 2015