Want to improve company morale AND do something good for your community? Start a community outreach program at work.
If your company doesn’t have an organized community outreach program established, pioneering one can be an incredible way to foster engagement as people from different departments and with different skills all work together toward a common cause.
Starting one can be daunting, but this three-part series will explore the steps you need to take.
Read on for Part 1: How to help the troops coalesce around a cause or event to support.
1) Form a Community Outreach Committee
I know, that sounds counterintuitive: committees mean meetings and meetings can mean time wasted. But when you are trying to launch a new program, the buy-in of a diverse group can help motivate management to approve the idea, and colleagues to participate.
Choosing committee members can be as simple as asking your lunch companions if they are interested, or as elaborate as asking your boss for input on the movers and shakers to include. Choosing committee members at a wide range of levels and departments can help diversify your reach as you move forward.
2) Discuss Your Options
Whatever cause you support, whether it’s a disease, a children’s outreach or an arts organization, it should be something that a diverse group can rally around. You might be up in arms over the disappearing rain forest, but unless your company directly deals with that issue, it might come off as too fringy to others.
A good way to start is to survey your core group about what they think the effort should look like. Community service can take many forms:
Collections: Sometimes an easy way to get started is to start a drive for collections: coats and gloves for a local homeless center, food for your food bank or backpack supplies for a school. These types of outreach are easy to get started: put out the word, put out a box, and let the collection begin. (Next week we’ll talk about fun ways to motivate the team to participate!)
Charity event: Every town has events like Race for the Cure, American Heart Association Heart Walk and carnivals or fairs for local hospitals. Research some existing events and find out how to get involved as a team. Events like this usually have a coordinator whose job is to reach out to local businesses and encourage them to form teams so you’ll have someone who knows exactly how to spur participation.
Day of service: In these concentrated events, the whole staff goes out and helps paint a school, stock a food pantry, do yard work at a senior center, entertain young hospital patients. The charity has the need — you provide the manpower.
3) Narrow Your Choices
It’s virtually impossible that there will be a cause that everyone will coalesce around. That’s ok! Consider the options that your group was most excited about and detail the logistics in some key areas:
- Time: Is there realistically enough time to form teams for a run; coordinate an appropriate agency for an angel tree; or hold a gardening day before the weather sets in?
- Budget: What sorts of funds are available internally to promote the event? Will management offer funds for a rally party, themed t-shirts or painting supplies?
- Support: Will the communications department help you spread the message internally and externally? Will your graphics department develop a logo?
While there will still be unknowns, find out as much as you can about what’s possible and get management to buy in before moving to the next step.
4) Survey Your Workplace
Once you’ve narrowed your choices to the “doable,” set up an internal survey to see what resonates with people and what support they are willing to give. Have people rank the various causes according to their interest (provide a link to the organizations’ websites if you can) and have them assess the level to which they will want to be involved (will they be on a team or just make a small donation?).
This is all subject to change, of course, but if you find out that people love fighting breast cancer so much they are already on other teams in the community, your Race for the Cure team might not get a running start.
Encourage people to include their names and in what areas they are willing to help — Planning committee? Promotion committee?
Hopefully the surveys will provide enough useful feedback that it will be clear which way you want to go: your office might be willing to bring in some food for a food bank but not want to spend a day there.
That’s ok! Every effort begins with a small step forward and the fastest way to feel defeated is to bite off more than you can chew — especially if your office is indicating they only have a small appetite.
5) Work Closely With the Organization
Once you’ve determined your cause, reach out to the director of the organization. They might have a staff person who deals exclusively with businesses and can answer all your questions and provide additional details for your team and workplace as a whole.
Meet with them to define expectations. Can you just drop off a load of mittens one afternoon? Do they only accept certain foods for the food bank? Do you have to raise a certain amount of money as a race team? Communication through every step of the way will ensure that the effort is beneficial for all parties.
And now, you are off and running! (or painting or collecting!)
With solid buy in from management, a clear view of the logistics, a motivated committee and an inspiring cause, you are on your way to a solid start to a successful outreach.
In the next part of this three-part series, we will talk about promoting your event to encourage involvement and excitement!
Series on How to Start a Community Outreach Program at Work
- Part 1: Tips on How to Start a Community Outreach Program at Work
- Part 2: How to Increase Awareness of and Participation in Your Community Outreach Program
- Part 3: Community Outreach Program Post-Mortem
by Cathie Ericson