Give back

Plans are probably already underway for your company’s holiday party.

Perhaps you sponsor catered lunches for various departments, or festive dinners in upscale restaurants, or even a gala evening at a local hotel where you treat your associates with dining and dancing. You probably have your own traditions, maybe tweaked here and there as your profits fall or rise, but largely the same.

Some organizations have begun new ways of celebrating the holidays, markedly different from the traditional gatherings. It may be unreasonable for you to join in this trend at the end of this calendar year. Still, I’d suggest you consider it for next year. Even better, you might insert it into your plan for 2010, so that it becomes part of your ongoing business practice, apart from any holiday.

What many firms have begun doing for the holidays, or at various times through the year, is to organize opportunities for their employees to come together and volunteer services, filling a need in the community. The list of needs grows every day. We all know that most charitable organizations are struggling to raise funds and can use all the volunteer help they can get.

Business organizations have set up opportunities for employees, sometimes together with their families, to cook for a local shelter for one day – or one day each month. Others provide teams of employees who offer after-school homework assistance. Some work with established organizations to staff food pantries or thrift shops. Opportunities abound.

“Most charitable organizations are struggling to raise funds and can use all the volunteer help they can get.”

The best practice is to ask the people in your organization for ideas. People have pet causes but eventually come together in a choice that has widespread appeal. It’s important that the group benefiting from your employees’ volunteering is not tied to a particular religious denomination, and is free of other ties that might dilute enthusiasm for the venture. You want everyone to be involved and comfortable with the choice.

You very likely make monetary philanthropic contributions to various charitable groups and I hope you continue to do so. God knows it is needed, and part of our American way. The practice of offering time and energy as well adds a whole new dimension to the relationship between your organization and your community.

I’ve been part of a business team when we all cooked and served lunch for people in need. Also, of course I’ve been part of the traditional holiday office party. Both can be great fun. Still, as far as leaving the scene with a deep sense of satisfaction and closer ties with my colleagues, the former wins hands-down.

Thing is, when you find strategic ways for employees to donate time and energy, you are building stronger relationships with the community and enhancing your business. Business philanthropy translates into employee satisfaction and better recruitment and retention. A few years ago, Cone Inc., a Boston-based strategic marketing firm completed a “corporate citizenship study” and found that 8 of 10 Americans say corporate support of causes helps earn their loyalty to a business. The study also concluded that younger Americans were more likely to consider a company’s corporate citizenship when deciding whether to buy from, or work for, that company.

These trends are equally significant for large and small companies. Mary Fehlig is president of a firm that helps companies implement socially responsible business practices. She says, “If 8 out of 10 people say they will switch vendors based on a company’s corporate citizenship, that’s as true for the local corner store as it is for Coke.”

If you and your associates decide to pull together and volunteer in your community – or beyond – there are resources that offer guidance. One is the Workplace Volunteer Solutions, which you can learn about on their website. Another is the Business Civic Leadership Center, a part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Their mission is to advance the positive role of business in society.

You have power to reach out to your community – or your planet – in a positive way. You have, in your organization, talent to share. Business with a heart – that is an engine that can drive remarkable change.

All my best wishes for the best holidays ever and peace and prosperity in the New Year.

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