Helping Community Can Help Your Business

Community Work Can Lead to Better Skills and Business

There’s an interesting—and humorous—children’s book I stumbled upon called “Mommy and Daddy Do It Pro Bono,” written by Kara and Aaron Hurst. She leads BSR’s consulting and research work on the East Coast, and he founded the Taproot Foundation, “whose mission is to engage business professionals to do pro bono work building the infrastructure of the nonprofit sector.”

The website offers two preview pages: 1) “My Daddy makes ads for companies to help them sell things. He says it is marketing. I saw his ad on TV for a new car.” Then on the right, a bubble caption from a school bus says this: “He volunteers to help foster kids, too. This is a sign he created to help some kids find a new home.”

And 2) “My mommy is a consultant. She flies around the world to help companies solve difficult problems.” Then the bubble caption on the right again from her young son: “She took me to this play. She helped them get more people to come to the theatre.”

What kind of led me here was an article in The Washington Post last week about the business value of community investment. Reporter Vickie Elmer writes about Lyles Carr—a VP for the executive-search firm the McCormick Group—who spends almost half his work time cultivating civic and business relations.

“Carr believes all professionals need to be involved and committed to something besides their career and employer,” Elmer writes. “And he believes it’s good business to be engaged in professional associations and nonprofits—especially those connected to one’s career.”

Good business. That’s the key phrase there. Elmer goes on to write that the McCormick Group would rather have their employees making connections through board service and community involvement than through ad dollars and sponsorships. They actually give employees six days of paid time a year for volunteer and community work, a benefit which also helps the company attract young talent. Young people like the idea of giving back, they find. (I agree.)

There’s another advantage to volunteering and community or association involvement, besides the connections you make. More than 91 percent of respondents to a 2008 Deloitte HR survey agreed that “skills-based volunteering (which involves the contribution of business knowledge and experience to help nonprofits increase their capacity) would add value to training and development programs, particularly as it relates to fostering business and leadership skills.” They call it “cost-effective” as a professional development tool. (This study deserves a closer look here in the future.)

Talk about win-win situations. Carr gives three tips for selecting the volunteer work that can assist both you and your company.

– Get involved with business/professional organizations in your field. “Seek groups through which you might meet potential clients or advance your profession.”
– “Follow your passions and interests” so that you will look forward to spending this extra time.
– If you’re going to do this, really do it. “Don’t join a board just to put it on your resume; do expect to show professionalism and a strong work ethic in nonprofit assignments.”

What volunteering for and joining nonprofit organizations can also do is expose you to new people and new ways of doing things, and allow you to try different strategies. For instance, I am involved with a local cycling group; in that capacity, I can try out marketing strategies, email sequence and membership enticements—see what works and what doesn’t. In another group I’m involved with called The Reading Connection, I’ve met people from places like Booz Allen, Department of Homeland Security and various law firms (this is the Washington area).

“So many of us have careers that were influenced by the work that people in our families do or have done,” wrote Kara Hurst in an interview for the above-mentioned book. “It’s very important to be able to find a job that you love and to use your skills from that job to contribute to the larger community. When done through your work, it doesn’t always add to the plate – it just enhances how you work.”

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