July 11, 2019
Plenty of business professionals highlight “giving back” as one of their main priorities, but most fall short of meeting this goal. That’s not because they’re bad people—it just goes against human nature to put others, particularly strangers, before yourself and those you love.
Still, there are companies out there that walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. REI is a great example. The company was founded in 1938 to sell gear for outdoor recreation, and it reinvests 70% of its annual profits into the outdoor community by offering profit-sharing and retirement to employees, paying dividends to members, and donating to nonprofits focused on the natural world.
Donations are incredibly valuable, but they aren’t the only way to give back. I recently adopted 5 miles of shoreline at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks on behalf of my company, Boat Planet. I wanted to give back to a beautiful place that I enjoy and raise awareness that the lake needs to be kept clean for future generations to enjoy. Because I manage a Facebook group of 27,000-plus boaters, I knew I could round up an army of volunteers for the cleanup effort. Giving back to the boating community gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment, and it also demonstrates to other leaders that we’re invested in this community—opening the door to several new business relationships.
Networking is just one business benefit of giving back. According to a 2018 survey by Accenture, more than 60% of people are drawn to businesses that strive to reduce waste and clean up the environment. This positive attention can easily benefit any company’s bottom line. Of Unilever’s leading 40 brands, 18 are focused on sustainable living—and they’re growing about 50% faster than the rest.
It’s easy to tell yourself that giving back will be more comfortable in the future because you’ll have more resources. But if you buy into that mindset, you might put off philanthropy indefinitely. Instead of waiting to tap into the personal and professional benefits of giving back, follow these three steps:
Find a cause that moves you. Everyone has different interests and passions. An individual who volunteers building playgrounds might find tutoring students in math to be a chore. Meanwhile, someone who brings therapy dogs to hospitals might not enjoy picking up litter in a park. Focus on finding a cause that inspires you to action.
When you’ve found the right mission, set goals and give yourself a timeline. My goal is for Boat Planet to adopt another 5 miles of shoreline at Lake of the Ozarks by 2020. Having a target and a timeline allows you to get a better idea of the steps needed to accomplish your goal.
Get your employer involved. If your employer doesn’t have any outlets for community service, pitch an idea. It helps to pick something related to the business. If you work at a web development company, for example, consider partnering with Girls Who Code. That said, pretty much everyone can get behind a food drive or a trip to the local animal shelter, so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself.
When you make your pitch, come prepared with a few convincing statistics. There’s plenty of research available to show how community outreach benefits everyone involved, and most employers will be happy to offer a paid volunteer day.
As an employer, support employee ideas. Listen to your employees if they have a suggestion for how your company can give back, or be there for them if they need a little encouragement. Getting your team out in the community for a few days each year will help them form stronger bonds; it can also increase their engagement back at the office.
According to Boston College’s 2019 Community Involvement Study, 95% of companies said there is a positive connection between community service programs and employee engagement scores. If one of your employees wants to give back to a cause, help the employee, the community, and your business by getting the rest of the team on board.
There are few things more satisfying than giving back to a cause you believe in. Whether you own your own business or you’re a new hire, look for opportunities to donate your time and energy and get the people around you on board. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.