Leadership and Giving Back

This time of year, businesses are trying to figure out how best to give back to their employees and to their communities. However, from a good leadership perspective, I believe it should not be an event that happens once a year, it should be part of your culture and you should have a stated policy about it. The big companies call it “Corporate Social Responsibility” and it’s something to really consider. Arguably some companies do it solely as a PR play and it’s not really authentic. Samsung’s CEO has modeled how to do it right as reported here in Inc. magazine. In the article, author Steve Goldstein points out, there are 5 fundamentals to doing it well:

  1. Lead by example
  2. Promote cross-departmental teams in the effort
  3. Don’t be overly concerned with Public Relations
  4. Return to work with a smile
  5. Consider your product as a tool for giving back

The first is self-explanatory. If you as the leader don’t participate, why should anyone else want to?  Make it authentic, find something you really care about and share why you believe in the charity and how people can join you in the effort – or as they say, “you go first.” Another option is to create a program where people select their own program and get a “giving day” off from work, or you can poll the employees as to what charity matters most to them and whichever one wins can be selected for support. You could even do this annually so that people don’t feel forced to be committed to 1 particular organization or cause on an ongoing basis that may or may not be meaningful to them personally.

Teams love to compete and the more excitement and enthusiasm you can generate amongst the employees, the better for the charity. Some will not participate and that’s ok. However, today’s workforce is very philanthropic and wants to work for an organization that also does good for the community. It is one of those difficult to measure “perks” that is important. Matching donations to a charity are important but “doing” whatever it is for the charity is much more visceral and visible.

If your only priority is to get good press for the effort it won’t be hard for people to opt out of the effort.  Spotting inauthenticity is not hard and most turn off or tune out as a result. Don’t sabotage your effort by worrying about how it will play locally or nationally. Do good for good’s sake, not for the PR value.

Doing good makes people feel happy and happy people smile more with the knowledge that they have done good. This feeds on itself and that happiness translates into good things for the workplace. It’s not why you should be generous, it’s simply a very nice side benefit.

Lastly, most products can directly benefit local communities so why not give what you already have or know? So often we ignore our own expertise and think money is the only solution for giving. It’s not. Products and services that we provide can often make the difference between success and failure of non-profits. Employees love being useful and if their skills are used by the charity, it becomes more valuable to them than money and the charity is likely to feel the same way.

Think about your local communities. How can you give back? Some great examples for team giving are locating your local Ronald McDonald House and preparing a meal for the families or working on a house for Habitat for Humanity. Now is the time to start a program and make it a policy and part of your culture on an ongoing basis.