Your organization has a hundred employees and you get 10 co-workers to volunteer for a day building a house for Habitat for Humanity. Do you consider that a success? Optimists would say absolutely yes; pessimists instead would point out the remaining 90% of employees who didn’t participate.

Does that mean 90% of your employees are heartless community haters? Of course not! In fact, many of those employees in the 90% group likely volunteer outside of work sponsored events. They may volunteer through their church, a local pet rescue organization or as a mentor or Big Brother or Sister to at-risk kids.

Wherever they donate their time, it’s obviously personally important, often passionately, to them.

The better question is — how can your company receive credit for the personal volunteer efforts of your co-workers while they receive the recognition of performing good deeds? Once you figure out this riddle, you’ll accomplish several things.

  • Your employees will be happier as you recognize and appreciate what the good they do outside of work hours.
  • Potential employees will like seeing the commitment and encouragement to be community involved.
  • Potential customers and decision makers in the community will credit the company for supporting and encouraging the personal efforts of your employees.
  • You’ll have a lot of no-cost media opportunities to promote and brand your organization through the amazing people who work for the company.

The best part is that you don’t need a lot of money to succeed (I’ll share some ideas how to stretch your budget later in this column). First and foremost is a decision to spend the time and energy to learn what your co-workers are already doing in the community.

Start with a simple survey to all of your employees asking:

  • To what organizations do co-workers volunteer their personal time?
  • Do they serve on any non-profit boards and what volunteer titles they hold (Board Member, Chairman, etc.)?
  • Do they volunteer anywhere (little league coach, religious school teacher, food kitchen, etc.)?
  • Where have they volunteered in the last 12 months — even if just once?
  • To which charities do they donate their own money (church, pet rescues, cancer society, etc.)?
  • How many volunteer hours do they perform each month?

I promise you’ll be amazed to learn all that your co-workers do in the community.

Now compile the collected information into the following lists.

  • All the organizations mentioned
  • All of the boards/community groups of which your employees serve
  • A total of all the volunteer hours for the entire year (if individual surveys say they volunteered 10 hours a month, multiple by 12 to show a total year average)
  • A total dollar amount of personally donated dollars by employees

Draw a line under each list and add company coordinated or sponsored organizations, donated cash plus in-kind dollars and any in-kind donated hours (free standby’s, etc.).

Now you’ve got an impressive list to promote! All you need to do is qualify the stats. Instead of saying “COMPANY donates more than X dollars to the community,” now you simply say “COMPANY and it’s employees donate more than X dollars to the community.”

Don’t hide the origin of the full list — highlight it. Take credit for hiring amazing people who not only do a great job for the company, but for the community as well!

Place the list on your company website and marketing materials. Even include the list in proposal bids to retain or expand service. This strategy is especially effective for companies that are unable to donate a lot of time or money as an organization in the community.

Over the years, I’ve helped many companies create philanthropic donation programs to help build their community image. The key is to start with a budget number and create a donation strategy that fits your marketing goals.

Let’s say you have $20,000 total to donate. Are you better off donating the entire amount to one organization or giving $500 to 40 different organizations? The answer may depend on the community image you wish to create.

Are you trying to make a significant impact on solving a single problem? For example, if making sure every kid has a bike helmet to prevent head injuries is your focus, you can buy a lot of helmets with $20,000.

You can then spend the rest of the year passing them out at events, schools, etc., while collecting media attention along the way. Your organization can OWN this issue.

Or does your company gain more by having 40 community organizations send you “thank you” letters? You can distribute 40 press releases or hold 40 events where you hand over check you write so that local leaders view your agency as a true community partner and supporter.

Here’s another strategy — I once put together a successful program where each employee could choose where to designate a $50 donation from 25 to 50 pre-approved charities. The program was extremely popular with employees, led to great media coverage and ultimately only cost the company about $5000 — less than they expected.

My point is that it’s not about the amount spent, but about the impression created. Yes, it feels good to be involved in your community. It feels even better to get credit as a company for that involvement, all while creating a positive image and reputation for your agency or company.

Does your company use another strategy? Share it in comments so we all can learn from your example!