Community Connects: Our Story
Our corporation’s national giving program began as an anonymous submission on a scrap of paper slipped into an employee suggestion box called, “The Better Box.” The idea is simple — if you see a need, address it.
One email gauging employee interest led to a packed room for a kickoff meeting, then the creation of the first employee volunteer program in Austin. Seven months later, the program rebranded and expanded into offices in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and continues to grow today.
Leadership expert Simon Sinek examines the principle behind every successful business. A simple but powerful thought model, The Golden Circle challenges organizations to examine the emotional core of what makes employees and clients believe in a company. The question isn’t “How?” or “What?” but rather, “Why?” Most organizations understand what they do — what they sell or offer. Some organizations understand how they do it — their unique value proposition. Yet, few organizations understand why they do it.
By leading with a purpose, cause, or belief, employee volunteer programs can increase employee engagement, boost morale and company culture, heighten a sense of purpose by developing brand ambassadors, improve brand presence and reach while giving back, and build stronger connections with each other and our communities.
Our steering committee began with this first step: crafting a purpose statement to guide the projects, events, and efforts our peers brought to the table.
Purpose Statement: Community Connects engages our employees by building connections with each other and our communities to give back and enrich the lives of those around us.
Our employees determine their individual level of participation. We keep the spectrum of volunteer opportunities broad with the hopes that our efforts are all-inclusive and that anyone can contribute at least once. We organize in-office initiatives including a donation center, drives (food, toys, shoes, etc.), events hosting local organizations, as well as external efforts including blood drives, youth development, manual work outdoors, literacy projects, and more. Family, friends, and pets are welcome to join. Employees have an open invitation to communicate and execute their ideas at any point – as a result, we’ve had a full roster of service opportunities that are deeply personal and allow us to share more than just our work culture.
We’ve identified three elements in the success of the program:
1. We strive to embody our values every step of the way
When we ordered volunteer t-shirts, we selected a vendor who agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds to a cause organization of our choice. We also chose a brand that creates eco-conscious shirts made in the US in a paper-free, solar-powered, zero-waste, and WRAP-certified warehouse. We avoid using promotional visuals that could potentially portray a subject in a negative light, and pay close attention to thoughtful word choices and intentional rhetoric. We seek out hands-on, direct-impact opportunities to avoid throwing dollars at systemic issues. By being conscious and deliberate, we hope we are living out our values as a program.
2. The program is entirely employee-driven and fueled by employee participation
As momentum kicked in, we’ve seen the results in the growth of our company culture. The range of participation, the positive words of encouragement, the willingness of employees to go above and beyond in supporting the efforts reflect the team-oriented culture growing within the company. We’re constantly appreciative of the opportunities to do good in the community and inspired to work with a close-knit group of good people who help make the office a happier place to work.
3. The company values and supports volunteer efforts
In our first volunteer effort, 55 participants came out to help collect 150 bags of trash in a large-scale cleanup to tackle litter around Lady Bird Lake via canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards. We’ve also seen success in the data. Posts related to Community Connects tend to be our top-performing content across social media, with the highest engagement and reach results. The most popular photo album on Facebook in the entire history of our company is our volunteer program album. Once we proved the need and commitment, the company responded by granting us the resources and enabling flexibility in executing our vision.
When we ventured outside our comfort zones into local communities, we became more aware of many issues that we couldn’t un-see. We were reminded how interconnected we are. We became more inspired. That level of passion and engagement translates back into the workplace. And, it’s even stronger when it returns with a shared spirit among our colleagues.
We’ve made a lot of progress in the past 10 months, and are thinking big when it comes to looking toward the future of our organization. We plan on creating a dedicated Community Connects Day for all four offices across the country to volunteer on the same day for one national organization. We also look forward to initiatives around Volunteer Time Off (VTO), a community ambassador program, education outreach efforts, pro bono work, and more.
We’re all about connected-screen activations, across every platform and channel. Yet, at the end of the 9-6 workday, it’s about human connection. Stories. Purpose. The collective idea of a group of people working toward a larger vision. Once you have that level of committed buy-in from the people around you, the rest will emerge organically.
– Community Connects