When our full Litigation Insights team walked through the doors at Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City, we didn’t know what to expect. It was 7:30am and already bustling with staff.
As it turned out, we weren’t just here to fetch things or hand stuff out. They relied on volunteers to take a huge project – providing food and essential household products to 141,500 people every month – and make it manageable. And the more volunteers could help their cause, the more people they could help in turn.
So after a brief introduction from a wonderfully affable Harvesters employee, we were off. With one group of us on food duty and the other handling household products, we were soon carefully sorting donations from massive bins, packing them to precise specifications, tagging them, and moving them to separate pallets for shipping to various smaller not-for-profit agencies.
All the while, we observed and experienced the real effort that goes into getting supplies to people in need. The staff’s passion and positivity was obvious. They work vigorously every day to make it all happen. We just got to be a part of that process for a few hours.
How Volunteering Can Help the Community and Your Company
But what does it really mean to volunteer as a company? In our experience, some companies seem to view community service projects as something to check off a list: “Well, we did it. Let’s snap a quick photo so we can post our good deed to Twitter.”
But what we’ve learned is that there are benefits to giving back beyond what might be obvious; and whether it sounds cutesy to say, helping others can help you and your team right back.
1. Learn More About Your Team, as People
Taking the firm out of the workplace can shed the formalities and stresses of the job and encourage team members to open up. You’re granted an extended opportunity to chat and learn about colleagues you may not otherwise have a good chance to interact with, and you’ll likely discover more about each other’s personalities and working styles – information to promote better communication upon returning to the workplace.
This is so important because, like it or not, natural divisions tend to occur between work roles. For example, we have admin, who are always in the office, and case managers and consultants, who are often away – not to mention multiple offices across the country. Even within the same office, workers can become segregated by their departments. Volunteering events remove the walls, both literal and figurative, created by the office layout and help a company get to know each other as people, rather than by their respective roles.
2. Build Leadership and Cooperation Within All Positions
Building on #1, volunteer projects have a tendency to shake up the normal mix and see a wide variety of coworkers taking up leadership roles in pursuit of a common goal. For example, at our recent trip to Harvesters, upper management didn’t jump right in to organize and direct; instead, groups split naturally into key roles as the team fell into place. Case managers, admin, consultants, graphics artists – each took the lead as necessary to get the job done efficiently, regardless of job title.
Here’s our CEO, Merrie Jo Pitera, describing a similar experience at a volunteer event from a couple of years ago:
“What impressed me most is how everyone worked as a well-oiled machine. Yes, people found new leadership roles, but each also individually found and took ownership of their roles. Though I had been unable to get to the event until 45 minutes in, leadership had already emerged on its own – and without anyone being ‘bossy.’ The rhythm was already started, and we hummed right along.
Each event reinforces that atmosphere of teamwork – everyone gets into it, and the results shine. In the span of only three hours, we had cleaned 22 barrels of donated, used winter coats, sorted them, and packed them. The charity staff gushed over how well we worked together and commented on how they’d never seen that many barrels handled so efficiently in so little time. They didn’t want us to leave! All of the values we encourage in our workplace translated to the charity event. It told me what a great team of people we have, and that the atmosphere we’d created in our firm and at our mock trials had a real impact – we could do anything together.”
Experiences like these have served as the perfect extension to one of our major firm goals: taking the time to hear from everyone in the company about their perspectives, ideas, needs, and wants.
3. Do Real Good for Causes You Care About
To ensure we are working for causes we care about we ask our employees who they would like for us to select. This way, our employees are invested in the day and know we care about the causes that matter to them.
No matter where we volunteer, we are not always sure exactly what to expect when we show up. But we’ve always found that we’re given actual, useful work that really seems to make a difference. In what feels like no time at all, you’ll be staring at the massive progress you’ve all made together – whether you’ve cleaned heaping barrels of winter coats to prepare people for the coming cold, or stacked box after box of food and supplies for those in need. You all will have done real good for a cause that matters.
How to Get Your Company Volunteering
As you can see, a simple volunteering project becomes a cooperative effort away from the office norms, where everyone can pitch in and get excited about helping others, and learn more about each other in the process.
If your company is thinking about upping its volunteering efforts, for these reasons and plenty more, we can’t recommend it enough. Here are a few steps to help you get started:
- Have a company meeting and run the charity-workday by your staff to engender excitement about the idea.
a) Remember to pick a workday not a weekend. It means more to your team if the company sacrifices a workday rather than their personal time.
b) Select how often you will volunteer – e.g., quarterly, biannually.
- Solicit ideas for potential volunteer opportunities/charity organizations.
- Ask for volunteers to form a committee to coordinate the details – e.g., selecting the date, communicating with the organization, etc.
- Order group T-shirts. Folks like being associated with a group — company T-shirts accomplish that and provide for a great company photo you can all be proud of.
- Remember to have employees put autoresponders on their emails on the day of the event, and change the phone message on your main company line. As needed, make sure clients for current projects know how to contact you in an emergency.
- Have fun!