In the business world, success is often chalked up to a dollar amount or number of customers. While these stats, along with other metrics like employee satisfaction, conversion rates and ROI, are pivotal markers of success, we would be amiss to overlook the importance of volunteerism.
Unfortunately, team volunteer efforts can be seen as extracurriculars rather than a cornerstone of a flourishing business. Company leaders can change the narrative by educating employees about the myriad of opportunities around them and make a commitment to give their finite resources—namely time, treasure and talent—to causes they believe are agents of change. Across my more than 30-year career, I’ve coordinated volunteer efforts, volunteered, and activated executive teams to be hands-on, rallying their team to demonstrate the value of being on-site in donating time to a cause. Fostering volunteerism isn’t something new, but it is more valued than ever today by employees who want to be part of companies with heart and by executives who want to demonstrate that generosity and connectivity in a community matters. Based on my experience internally at corporations and now running my own company, here’s how I suggest presenting volunteer options to your employees.
Donate your time
As an executive at large corporations, I ensured that JPMorgan and IBM were creating opportunities for our employees to actively give back with their skills and time. While working at JPMorgan in Asia, I learned that American banks were viewed as uncommitted to the communities they resided in. In turn, we put an entire campaign in place to demonstrate that we were there to do more than business but to be part of the community. We created a mural at the Ronald McDonald House in their playgroup courtyard that was in dire need of joy and had our executives and their teams paint it. We established a strong partnership with the largest orphanage in Hong Kong and brought big companies together to create a mentorship program and essay competition for college applications. At IBM Research, we had our scientists teach kitchen science to students every Saturday, establishing deep relationships with the community in doing so.
Today, as a business owner for more than 15 years, I’ve found time to be the most valuable resource. Every year, I set aside my own time to actively participate in a board, volunteer at local charities and advance community involvement as a founding partner of Austin Gives. I’m thankful that the rest of my team has adopted a similar attitude; several employees have come to me with suggestions for volunteer outings, which have included harvesting at a local farm with Urban Roots, preparing donations for distribution at the Central Texas Food Bank and restoring the community’s landscape after Austin’s winter freeze at Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy.
It’s true what they say — time is money. While client work is profitable, we don’t lose sight of the needs of our community. Every quarter, we plan a date to volunteer together as a team. These outings are highly anticipated by my employees and have served as an opportunity to learn more about causes they’d like to volunteer with on their own time.
Make financial contributions
Regardless of your organization’s financial gains, it’s pivotal to give some of that hard-earned “treasure” away. This altruistic action is rooted in a desire to improve an aspect of the community, especially one that is well aligned to a company’s mission and values. It also establishes a strong sense of camaraderie that is contagious among employees and attractive to clients who enjoy partnering with charitable companies.
Austin Gives recognizes businesses that pledge to give at least 1% of their products or services, employee time, and/or pre-tax earnings to the local community. To get started, companies should evaluate different causes and decide as a team where to invest their dollars. Consistent contributions, rather than one-time donations, encourage increased community engagement and even remind employees to donate out of their own pockets.
Share your talent
The final resource a business can contribute is its talent. Classic examples include doing work pro bono or offering services to nonprofit clients at a discounted rate. Expanding beyond your usual client base can pave the way for long-lasting partnerships. For example, my team has offered PR services to the ABC Kite Fest since 2018 and before that, the Trail of Lights for five years, and the results have been mutually beneficial.
Executive team members additionally have plenty of opportunities to donate their expertise as a board member of a charitable group. I’ve experienced how rewarding this work can be recently with my spot on the board of directors at PelotonU, a leading nonprofit that has helped hundreds of working Americans cost-effectively access post-secondary education opportunities. In the past, I’ve also served on boards of organizations that are near to my heart like Komen Austin and the Griffin School. And as a founding member of Austin Gives, I’ve also had the privilege of watching a cause I invested in from the beginning evolve into the revered organization it has become today.
Whether your team’s commitment for upping volunteer efforts is through time, treasure, talent or a combination of the three, it’s clear that the most impact is made when efforts are intentional rather than tacked on to a business plan. The initial steps should be a company-wide reflection on values, assessment of charities that reflect those principles and finally, a plan of action that allows employees to serve their community in ways that they’ve already identified as worthy.
Volunteer Opportunities for Austin-based Companies
- Urban Roots: For those interested in agriculture and the mission to achieve food equity, Urban Roots provides public and group volunteer opportunities. Located at two urban farms in Austin, volunteers have the opportunity to work with the only farm-based youth leadership organization in Austin to harvest from 25,000 to 35,000 pounds of fresh food annually.
- Central Texas Food Bank: Serving nearly 46,000 central Texans, one-third of them children, the Central Texas Food Bank depends on its volunteers to achieve its mission of distributing food to those in need. Volunteers are needed at every stage of the process from hands-on work in the garden to on-site food preparation in the community kitchen to preparing donations for distribution in the warehouse and delivering cheerful services to clients at a mobile food pantry.
- Zilker Botanical Garden: A world-class botanical garden in the heart of Austin, Zilker Botanical Gardens Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (ZBGC) dedicated to improving the landscape and experience of the gardens. For nature-loving volunteers, the opportunities at ZBG are expansive and allow participants to both learn about local horticulture and contribute to the garden’s restoration.
- Keep Austin Beautiful: Operating under the vision to make Austin the cleanest, most beautiful community, Keep Austin Beautiful welcomes volunteers to beautify green spaces, clean waterways and reduce waste. For companies who share similar values related to improving Austin’s overall landscape, volunteer opportunities allow for deeper connections to nature and more time spent outdoors.
- The Trail Conservancy: Dedicated to preserving the 10-mile-long Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, the Trail Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has invested more than $13 million in various improvements to this public asset. The Conservancy operates through volunteers as its core resource. Avid runners, bike riders and anyone who enjoys the trail will likely share in the mission to preserve the Trail, which they can do through a variety of activities including mulching, seed collection, plant removal and trash pickup. In addition to completing hands-on trail improvement projects throughout the year, volunteers can build a network with other individuals, businesses, corporations and community groups.
Related Categories: Austin Gives