It’s National Volunteer Week, a time to honor those who give back to their communities through time and talent. Across Louisiana and around the world, many people have the opportunity to volunteer through their workplace. Reports have shown that workplace volunteering and giving were at their highest in 2020, reflecting the commitment of many in the business community to improve the places where their employees live and work in a uniquely challenging year. With that in mind, I want to share a few reflections on how businesses (and their nonprofit partners) can help expand community involvement in ways that are meaningful, authentic and have a big impact on community needs, particularly as opportunities for in-person volunteering start to open up again in 2021.
Engage Your People
Businesses, at their core, are groups of people working together for a common goal. Those people live in communities and see problems they are passionate about and frequently want to partner with their co-workers to have a positive impact. As such, whether your organization is just starting or looking to expand its community impact, you can’t go wrong if you engage the people on your team to work for their own communities with your blessing and backing.
One thing we try to keep sharply in focus in our company’s community partnerships work is that our role is to empower and connect. Blue Cross is a local, mutually held insurance company. Our employees are customers, too, and the overwhelming majority of them live and work in Louisiana communities from Benton to Barataria and everywhere in between.
Within the business, our job is the help them find and connect with causes they are passionate about, and give them our support in volunteering, giving and advocating. That’s the way that we reach the levels of impact we talk about in our 2020 Community Partnerships Report, including the 46,000+ hours our colleagues volunteered last year and $14M in charitable investments, nearly 4x our normal rate.
What Kind of Engagement Is Right for Your Business?
I can’t speak to the focus and guiding principles of any business besides our own, but when a company’s civic engagement flows from its core values and operations, that engagement is often more successful. Leveraging your unique expertise is smart, good for your organizational goals and part of how we work together to solve big problems. Since every business is a bit different, here are some ideas, ranked from least to most resource-intensive to consider as options:
- Support Volunteering and Giving
Companies that support volunteering and giving have higher levels of employee engagement across the board. This is certainly true at Blue Cross, where our annual engagement surveys routinely pinpoint community involvement as one of the things that employees like most about working here.
This can be as simple as arranging team volunteer days or setting an office goal to raise funds for an organization your team supports. You can go farther by offering Volunteer Time Off (VTO) or matching employee donations at a certain level (Blue Cross does both).
- Leverage the Skills of Your People
There are huge opportunities for giving in the nonprofit sector that go beyond straight donations. Most of the workforce in the nonprofit field is dedicated to direct service (think social workers or nurses – people who directly engage with the people that the nonprofit is helping). With nonprofits surviving on razor-thin overheads, there often is not budget to hire employees or consultants to do the things that would help them improve their operations – for example, upgrading their website or moving to a new bookkeeping platform.
What do the people at your business do? Are they accountants? HR geniuses? IT gurus? Great at sales? Business planners? Maybe they’re administrative professionals renowned for their super organization talents? Whatever kinds of skills your people have, nonprofits can benefit from them. Using these skills is referred to as skills-based or pro bono volunteering.
Last year, we partnered with The Taproot Foundation to create a freely accessible place where volunteers can go and match their skills with nonprofits who have already scoped out specific needs. The volunteer needs change week by week, but if you want to connect with nonprofits in Louisiana or across the nation, Louisiana.taprootplus.org is the place to send your people to find their passion and put their skills to work to make an ever bigger impact.
By the way, this is an easy way to engage your people while many are still working remotely and has significant benefits in terms of opportunities to grow skills, enhance leadership capacity for volunteers and to deepen engagement with nonprofit partners working in your community.
- Build partnerships to solve bigger programs.
Coalitions have the greatest potential to solve tough, long-standing problems in our communities. Working together with other businesses in your ecosystem, supply chains or even your competitors can help you achieve big wins for your community. The questions to ask are, “What is an issue we really want to address? Who else wants to address this issue, and how can we work together to do more than any one of us could on our own?”
There are so many examples of this kind of work from our Collective Impact grantmaking, but I’ll focus on just one here because it particularly highlights competitors working together.
Facilitated by their local Workforce Development Board, a group of nursing programs and competing hospital systems collaborated to solve a bottleneck in the region’s nursing accreditation programs. Individually, each institution did not have enough nurses to supervise students doing their clinical training. Together, they agreed to share nurses as adjunct faculty. This solution will allow hundreds more nursing students to graduate and join the workforce within a few years, which will also help alleviate a huge gap in the healthcare workforce.
Let Us Know How We Can Help
One of the reasons I moved from nonprofit work into business philanthropy is because I came to believe that businesses can play a critical role in helping to solve some of our communities’ toughest issues.
Over the past five years, I’ve been proud of the work we have done at Blue Cross, but I also don’t claim we’ve cracked the code or found a silver bullet. This work is hard and requires refinement and adjustment for each organization and on an ongoing basis. But one of the things I’m most proud of is our team for being leaders at engaging people and building partnerships. They understand that the most important asset in making the world better is people – and that starts with all of us looking around and finding a way to have an impact.
If we can be of any help to you – whether that’s offering tools to jumpstart any of the kinds of programs outlined above, or helping plug you into regional groups working to solve problems – please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Have a great week,
President, BCBSLA Foundation
Head of Community Relations
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