What I took from that message was that I should plan a more balanced time with family, friends, work, and extracurricular activities. For some of us, our joy and passion come from making a difference in the lives of others, so a traditional hobby or sports program might not be the fulfillment we need. Some of us may need a connection to other folks in a creative and constructive way. And that led me to my eureka moment of community involvement.
Most accomplished executives have some special qualities that are the foundation of their success. Behavioral attributes such as enthusiasm, compassion, charisma, endurance, and persistence are all essential in building a great outcome in any business. The one thing that most high performing executives cannot easily do is turn these traits off at the door; they carry them out into the real world. I have met with hundreds of executives in the course of various business and community involvement activities, and to a person you can feel the energy they have to share. So we really have a great opportunity to channel that energy in our greater community, and help our businesses thrive at the same time.
Just for kicks, I typed community involvement into Google, discovering more than 19 million community needs across the globe. These overwhelming results are a sure-fire guarantee that a highly energized leader can find an effective outlet. We are all aware of high profile agencies such as United Way, Make a Wish and Habitat for Humanity, but you won't believe the level of varied and specialized needs that are out there.
First I want to make the case for why executives should get out into the community, before we discuss the 19 million opportunities.
In doing some research we found out that companies, and especially their leaders, have certain beliefs and outcomes when demonstrating community involvement:
-58 percent of Americans believe workplace volunteerism improves morale;
-61 percent of Americans believe employees help communicate a company's values;
-72 percent of Americans want to work for companies that support charitable causes; and
-92 percent of Americans think it is important for companies to make charitable contributions or donate products and/or services to nonprofit organizations in the community.
(Source: Cause Marketing Forum)
These are powerful statistics and ones we can act upon. But wait: There are additional benefits to the outreach an executive can deliver on his own (or in the name of his company).
We discovered that we have earned some solid client appreciation as we find kindred spirits in organizations that also have developed a giving culture. Some of our Fortune 500 customers have contacted us as they participate in various charitable events to find out if we would join with them – not because we're on a list, but because they saw that we had a local reputation as a pacesetter of sorts.
In the case of a select number of clients, we have been asked to develop in-kind donations using our printing and creative skills, further extending our community reach and engaging many of our team members. It's the summer golf fundraiser season (until the snow flies) and we have been aiding in these events with in-kind items like reminder kitchen magnets, posters, banners, and static clings. Obviously this can get carried away and we are mindful of the economy, but it still begs the question: Is the need even greater at this time? Some great in-kind opportunities and events include:
-Cultural groups: symphony, opera, choirs, museums
-Charity soccer, baseball events… to name a few.
Another classic example of a place to get out and take a leadership role could be an opportunity to drive a company's United Way campaign. In our county they provide comprehensive tools and fundraising events that ultimately fund the support of mor 200 organizations – all with a special need.
We have been told that we are eligible for special recognition for these focused community involvement efforts, both in the form of local as well as national distinction. An example would be the NAM Trowbridge Award (www.nam.org), recognizing exceptional leadership through community involvement. The connections to other active companies and their leaders provide a greater business bond than, say, socializing at an annual golf outing or a special business seminar. Why? Because we're simply there for others in need.
It's clear that those who participate in local causes also enjoy doing business together as well. The occasional recognition allows us to add an additional element of esprit de corps within our organization, again supporting the statistic that people like working for giving organizations.
Experienced talent needed
Community involvement takes on many shapes. The willingness of a leader to speak to local groups also provides a "give back" opportunity. Things like economic development forums, high school and college seminars on career planning, and local chamber of commerce events provide an outlet to share your business and career experiences, helping to create awareness for the potential in the printing world.
Experienced executive talent is needed in a multitude of ways. Local hospitals, colleges, social services agencies and governmental committees can use the breadth of skills a business owner or leader has collected. The "toe in the water" moment for me was created at our local medical college, where I was asked to join a board that is focused on helping fund cardiac research. Given a family history of heart related illness, it struck a nerve and was an easy choice to go ahead and join. The outcome is 20 new business community friends and the joy of helping use our marketing and promotion skills to create new funds for research that touches millions of lives.
Another way to reach out to the community is to work with a crew of friends to create a new not-for-profit. A group I joined about 10 years ago saw a specific need in event planning for developmentally and cognitively disabled youths and adults. It was founded under the premise that there were no real groups singly focused on the funding and creation of entertaining events for these agencies or groups. So a band of about six folks created an organization that simply raises funds to spend on sports or entertainment events for these challenged individuals. The group is made up of lawyers, bankers, accountants, marketing and sales professional, and general business managers. It is now in its 20th year, funding the entertainment for at least three to four guest events hosting anywhere from 200 to 1,000 individuals each year.
A new outreach effort that we found in our region is a group called Second Chance. This program was created by the leaders of a local manufacturing company who felt that they could drive a better outcome in the graduation rates and employment opportunities of at-risk high school students. This past year we carved out a classroom and office within our operations for a dozen of these students from our local school district. This mix of work and class time allows these young adults an opportunity to learn on the job and in the classroom. We host two students as part-time employees and the rest of the students are spread out into other local manufacturing environments. The opportunity for giving back is in the form of speaking about the benefits of this program and specifically mentoring one or two students for for three to four months. We have employee mentors assigned to each of our students, another boost for morale within the organization as well.
An important part of any community involvement effort resides in the theme Lead By Example. Community involvement executive success can be measured by the creation of future volunteers who can also build some balance within their lives. We should share this vision with our employees and reward them with selective time off to participate when the need arises. The real outcome for an executive is broadened professional excellence and personal joy when we focus on creating a truly balanced lifestyle. Involvement is important – to you, your team, your community… and if you think some group needs your help, then just ask them. If it's a good thing, then do it!
And remember, it all began with creating your work/life balance.