Helping the Community, Both Inside and Out

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Social responsibility. It’s good for individuals, and it’s good for companies. When employees feel like they’re making a difference outside the office walls, it can go a long way. Not only will it have a positive impact on the local community, but it can also boost employee morale, foster collaboration, and enable personal and professional development beyond the confines of employees’ everyday responsibilities.

Many companies love the idea of helping out the local community. And some do help, by simply donating money to an issue or charities. While this is a good first step, even more value comes from involving employees in projects.

For companies that hire a high percentage of Millennial workers, it’s especially important to go a step further and actually participate in community activities. According to a 2011 Deloitte study, 61 percent of 18- to 26-year-olds said they would prefer to work for a company that offers volunteer opportunities. So it can be considered a recruitment and retention tool, not just a feel-good program.

Corporate social responsibility, like any other successful company project, needs structure, resources, and senior leadership involvement. Otherwise, even the best-intentioned initiatives may fall by the wayside. Done right, a good community involvement program will:
  • Foster teamwork among employees
  • Help the community
  • Develop employees both personally and professionally

We have a dedicated Employee Activity Committee made up of more than 20 people from throughout the company who plan and facilitate community involvement programs. Members represent every facet of the company — IT, marketing, HR, operations, and contact center employees. It’s great to see people who would never interact during the daily course of business work together in this capacity. They socialize and learn from one another, gaining a better understanding of how the company operates in the process.

This month, we will donate food and items to a local food bank in Phoenix, and during the holidays committee members will collect items to create care packages for service members. The group decides which activities to participate in based on what’s important to employees. Employees are surveyed each year to guide decision making for the upcoming year. For example, in 2013 the committee prioritized local homeless agencies and food banks as top charities to work with. We plan to ask employees soon about what they are interested in for next year.

The committee’s five-member board runs regular committee meetings to discuss community outreach ideas and assign project teams for each initiative. Everyone in the company is invited to participate as a member of the committee. As its executive sponsor, my role is to guide the committee and remove roadblocks when possible.

The committee isn’t there just for a fun time — there are budget and staffing issues to manage, as well as logistics, marketing, and communication components to each project. This experience helps develop employees, giving them ownership and accountability for the projects they work on. There is the satisfaction from helping others, but also from completing a successful event. Many team members have really grown through their experiences on the committee.

If your company hasn’t formalized a community outreach program, it should. The upside overwhelmingly outweighs any downside. It’s good for the heart, the head, and ultimately, the company.