Liam is 21 and has two weekly volunteer jobs: helping care for to-be-adopted cats and making/delivering lunch to Meals on Wheels clients. It is not so unusual, I guess, for a man to be so passionate about giving back to his community. Except this one thing about Liam: he was diagnosed with severe autism before age 2.
He also happens to be my son. When Liam was diagnosed, autism was not as prevalent or understood as it is today. We were advised he would never work (he does, as a barista) and he would never show much emotion or empathy (he does, and is a caring citizen in his community). Seeing him now as a young man who loves people, and giving back, makes me not only proud but is a reality check on the importance of having purpose in life.
We noticed years back when Liam started volunteering, it increased his self-esteem, his community connections and his skills that could also translate to career opportunities. He was no longer solely on the receiving end of goodwill; he was also the one distributing goodwill to others. And he changed. He grew, matured and expanded as a citizen.
GHJ (GHJ) not only serves the nonprofit community with our accounting, tax and consulting expertise, but we have an embedded passion for giving back to our community. Most firms say this. What is different in my experience is that it is not what we “do,” it is authentically who we “are.” We have a firm belief in supporting what it takes for each of us to #BeMore.
And that sums up why I joined the firm. Being a person who can regularly give back as part of my job is the commitment I made to myself when I left my last position. My two-decades-long journey as a parent/advocate in the disability community made it impossible for me to continue to separate what I did for a paycheck with what fed my soul. As head of strategy, marketing and business development for GHJ, it is the first time in my career I wake up integrated in how I make a living and make a difference.
Truth is, I am no different than most people: Liam and his fellow millennials, retired professionals…in fact anyone of any generation. Studies have shown that we all are wired to benefit by doing good. That is good news for the planet. But is tough news for many companies who struggle to create a culture of giving.
Here are a few tips for creating a culture of good:
- Reward and recognize those who give back
- Integrate the message of philanthropy throughout your company’s communications
- Make giving back easy and genuine: offer time and matching funds toward charity work
- Create “meet up” type systems that allow colleagues to support one another’s favorite causes
- Model the behavior at the top and make sure your leadership actively supports your stated beliefs and values
That is the short list, and it can start the process. We have found our culture of caring has permeated our firm, and some of the best employee bonding experiences have been in collectively working together for a cause. That is a universal truth any company can implement. We did not create a culture of giving to make our firm more successful, but that can in fact happen when companies give back: better employee and client-retention numbers, a broader net of contacts and business networking opportunities and a stronger culture. That is the wonderful secret behind “doing well by doing good” – you do it for the community benefit, but the benefits always come back to the giver. Just like it has for Liam.
Here are a few likely benefits experienced by companies with an authentic giving focus:
- A positive reputation from doing good works
- An expanded network of community “fans”
- Greater differentiation from competitors
- Increased client retention
- Motivated teams with better skills
- Attracting, retaining and sustaining a happy workforce