Whether it’s volunteering for a social services organization or serving on the board of directors of a favorite charity, people have different ways of giving back. Businesses should encourage community involvement because it benefits everyone from the employee to the employer to the individuals being helped.
“As a company, we recognize we have a social responsibility to help the communities we serve,” says Sean Richardson, the president and CEO of FirstMerit Bank’s Cleveland region. “We benefit by being in those communities, so we feel a unique obligation to give back to those communities and make them better places to live and raise a family.”
Smart Business spoke with Richardson about how businesses can get involved in their communities.
How can a company help busy employees find time for community service work?
First off, don’t tell people to volunteer; ask them to volunteer. If you are really committed to community involvement, people will volunteer. Again, don’t tell them what to do — simply say that community service is a part of the company culture. If an employee wants to be a part of that culture, then show them what you would like to see from them.
Honestly, community involvement can take whatever form an employee chooses. It’s not a cut-and-dried checklist, so encourage employees to find something they are really passionate about, and allow them to commit themselves to community involvement during work hours. If they are going to take time away from their families and time away from the office, then it should be for something they are passionate about.
If simply asking doesn’t work, how can a business encourage volunteering?
Do as much as you can to make it easy to volunteer. If you organize the community service effort and just ask for volunteers, employees will be more willing to pitch in than if they had to find a community service effort on their own. Having someone help organize activities for the company makes it easy for employees to volunteer.
Even in small businesses, there is usually someone who is passionate about community involvement. You can always ask your employees if they have any interest in helping organize community activities for the company. You may get a volunteer out of your workforce who doesn’t mind heading that up for a year, or forever.
Even if you don’t have the resources to have a dedicated community relations person, you can have a volunteer in your business to do that for a set amount of time, and then rotate that responsibility.
How does a business’s community involvement benefit the employees?
First, it makes them feel good about working for the company. Most people want to work for an organization that cares about its friends and neighbors, not just the bottom line. And usually, your employees are those friends and neighbors, because you hire from within the communities you serve.
Community involvement also shows employees that the company cares about more than just the company itself. It helps boost morale and is great for team building. Employees often have a lot of fun working together toward a common goal. It creates a buzz around the office and it brings people together. Spending time away from the office as a group creates a closer working relationship between coworkers. Plus, you get to meet other like-minded, socially responsible people outside the workplace. That networking with other people and companies can be great for business. If you have people in a business development role meeting people from other companies, they are exposed to other opportunities.
Where can businesses find ideas on how to get involved in their community?
In Cleveland, we are very fortunate to have Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU). BVU was started by the business community to act as a liaison between the for-profit and the not-for-profit world. BVU helps businesses pinpoint the right ‘match’ for their employees to get involved, either for board positions or for ‘Done in a Day’ types of projects for a group to do together.
What are some of the ways FirstMerit is involved with its community?
FirstMerit’s Cleveland Leadership team volunteers at social service and cultural institutions such as Cleveland Foodbank, St. Vincent Charity Hospital, Holden Arboretum and many others. We have a charitable giving committee that steers philanthropic dollars to organizations that support causes such as Transitional Housing, Cleveland Public Theater, Slavic Village and Hispanic Roundtable. In 2010 FirstMerit’s Cleveland Region gave more than $75,000 in philanthropy via this committee. We also are involved by lending money and providing banking services to many area not-for-profits such as Hospice of the Western Reserve, Boys and Girls Club, Cleveland Botanical Garden, Ursuline College and Playhouse Square Foundation. We are providing construction financing to the Uptown Development in University Circle that is in part driving the renaissance taking place in that vital cultural and academic hub for Cleveland. All of these dollars flow into the local community and help ensure a better quality of life and economic vitality for Cleveland.
Sean Richardson is the NorthCoast president and CEO of FirstMerit Bank. Reach him at Sean.Richardson@firstmerit.com or (216) 802-6565.