A Plea for More Executives to Do Pro Bono Work
Companies that give money, donate goods and set up workplace volunteerism programs exhibit wonderful forms of corporate philanthropy. The value of executives' giving their own time, however, cannot be equaled.
In Taking People With You, David Novak, the CEO of Yum Brands, wrote about the importance of executives' involving team members when embarking on new dynamic projects as well as fundraising for a cause. When customers and business associates see an executive taking seriously the act of giving back, this is also good for the company's mission, brand and workplace culture.
The 15-year-old Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy is a resource for CEOs who have a mission of societal improvement beyond profitable commerce. Per its website, the group is "committed to the vision of its founder, Paul Newman, who understood that corporations could be a force for good in society."
The hardest part might be simply getting started. Here are some questions an executive might pose, along with some answers:
1. What activity should I focus on? Although there is no one right answer, some executives might have personal passions to pursue. Others might be motivated to simply model the act of giving back for their colleagues to follow. Still others might feel drawn to teaching, mentoring new leaders or sharing subject-matter expertise in law, finance or strategic planning.
Consider that executives can accumulate a lifetime of experience and expertise that could go with them into retirement "unshared." Gifting such lessons to younger professionals is a terrific way to build a legacy and support those needing a senior leader's strategic input.
2. How much time should I spend on pro bono work? Although this is entirely up to the leader's demanding schedule, devote enough time to make a difference. When mentoring a professional make certain that enough time is allotted per meeting and frequently enough to add value to the efforts.
3. How can I leverage my efforts to help my company brand? Somehow try to tie in pro bono efforts with an industry-related purpose, cause or mission.
At Target, executives as well as new employees give back and the effort is tied to the brand.
4. How can I encourage my employees to do the same? Appoint a team of managers and nonmanagers to create a giving-back program that will actively engage employees on a consistent basis.
Serial entrepreneur and Virgin Group Richard Branson, who has written copiously on the importance of giving back, has mentored young people and addressed how doing good ties into a corporation's mission and reach.
Many reputable ideas can be executed at a low cost, with minimal effort and without detracting from the origination's primary mission. Allow a committee to form for this purpose or better yet, lead it.
Executives considering giving back time and expertise should not wait any longer. The need for executive-level involvement is overwhelming. As baby boomers continue preparing for their retirement, Generation X-ers need to be trained to fill senior leadership roles. Mentors are needed more than ever to highlight potential leaders and fast-track them into new roles.
Even if mentoring isn't a personal area of interest, lead by example and start a philanthropic activity within the company to fortify a culture of giving back and unify employees while helping those in need within the community.
Patrick Proctor is vice president of operations at Stash Tea Co. in Portland, Ore., and is an experienced organizational development, HR and strategic business planning leader. He writes about workplace issues.