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Q: I’m part of a people and culture committee at my organization and I want to get us more involved in community work. How can I approach this? And what sorts of volunteer activities should I try to promote?
A: First, kudos to your company for having a people and culture committee that welcomes employee input. This is a great way to determine the kind of community work employees are interested in investing their time and energy into. One of the things that has become apparent in the younger, remote, and COVID-affected workforce is the increased desire to be involved in efforts to support and give back to their communities. As you look at the charter of your committee, identity the mission, vision, and values of your organization – the more closely you’re aligned with your company, the more you can focus your volunteer activities and provide a needed service.
You most likely have people at your company who have their own causes of interest, and you can ask for input from all employees. Perhaps coworkers support Habitat for Humanity. If this is the case, one type of opportunity to consider is having individuals sign up to do physical labor in support of building a house. And if physical labor is not something employees are able to do, you could still get people involved by creating another team that would be responsible for interior fixtures. This could be done by having employees submit donations for households and/or holding a donation drive at the office for items that Habitat for Humanity (or any similar organization) is looking for. Many location and city-specific branches often have wish lists available online or by email that you could distribute and use as a checklist of sorts. This will not only help your donation, but it will also ensure that the organization you’re helping receives items they actually need.
Maybe your company deals with not-for-profit organizations supporting children’s causes. You may decide to do a walk or some sort of marathon for a healthcare clinic or a hospital. Other organizations you may want to look into supporting may be something like Cradles to Crayons or Hope Supply Co. that support homeless and low-income children with needed school supplies and clothing. Cradles to Crayons has lists available online by city (Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago) which provide items that those areas are specifically looking for (Items We Accept – Cradles to Crayons). Cradles to Crayons also has a section dedicated to how you can host a donation drive in your area (Host A Drive – Cradles to Crayons). Hope Supply Co. has a list of items online that your organization could use to determine what items need to be purchased or donated (Donate Supplies | Hope Supply Co), or you and your colleagues could sign up to volunteer with them directly (Volunteer Sign Up | Hope Supply Co).
Depending on the size of your organization, you may have a variety of causes to choose from. You can create a questionnaire to all employees to see what sorts of groups or causes are of interest and if there are any causes that might have enough similarities and needs to facilitate a joint effort. You could also rotate your cause of choice once a quarter or more frequently (depending on how often you decide to make a contribution). If you have specific expertise (if you’re an education organization for example), you may want to look into doing similar educational work. This is the time to think outside the box and take a look at organizations with the most need and ones in which your organization can bring the most impact. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be in your own backyard. You might decide you want to pick a rural area or an area that lost jobs or an industry. Your contribution could be something like developing a resource guide for jobs, free employment services, or free classes for a specific skill.
There are some best practices and some pitfalls you should be aware of when it comes to volunteer work. Jessica Rodell’s article, Volunteer Programs That Employees Can Get Excited About, makes suggestions to keep in mind when engaging in volunteer work with your organization. Some warnings Rodell writes about include copying others (which can feel a bit lazy to employees and not authentic to the business itself), focusing on pet projects (where senior leaders dedicate an organization’s volunteer time and efforts to a cause specific to the senior leader and not the employees as a whole), and mandatory volunteering. These kinds of shortcomings can not only cheapen the volunteering message, but it can also lead to poor engagement and ultimately (and most importantly), a severe lack of meaningful donations or volunteer work for the group you’re trying to help.
Also according to Rodell, some things you should keep as part of you practice are the focus on meaning (which gives volunteers the ability to see the results of their contributions), giving employees a voice when it comes to volunteer work (be it a survey, rotating causes every quarter, or something else), and engaging or involving other stakeholders (which could be people in the community, former employees, customers, and more). Rodell writes, “I have seen companies include customers, suppliers, retired workers, and even board members in their volunteer activities.”
There’s no lack of groups that can truly benefit from your committee’s support. And you’ll find that people are more engaged and interested if it’s a cause they drive. So, use all the tools available to you, reach out beyond your organization’s walls, and really bring your creative thinking to the table to make a difference both internally and to the communities around you.
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