Now Reading | Unwanted Volunteers
I so loved reading this article this weekend. Here is just a small excerpt:
The next time you’re inclined to pat yourself on the back for your company’s volunteer work — the murals painted, the community gardens planted, the vacant lots cleaned — think of Kathleen Walsh. She’s the chief operating officer at the YMCA of Metro North, which manages more than 1,000 volunteers a year at its seven facilities, and she sometimes breathes a huge sigh of relief when those do-gooders go home.
“Oftentimes a van shows up, a bunch of people get out with no real understanding of our cause, and they come with the assumption they’re getting a day in the sun or out of the office,” said Walsh, recalling volunteers who have arrived in flip-flops to do debris removal and without sunscreen or bug spray for outdoor work in late spring. The arrival of such volunteers often triggers a coin flip no one wants to lose.
“We’re all saying, ‘They’re your problem!’ ‘No, they’re your problem!’ and finally, when the day is over and they get back onto their little corporate bus, we think: thank god. Now we can move on to our real jobs.”
It’s the dirty truth of corporate volunteer projects: They may make good photo ops and sound virtuous in a company’s annual report, but nonprofits often dread them and suffer in silence.
It was tough material but it immediately made me think of one of my favorite CEOs, Tom Ward. I have had the privilege of working with him on two major brand projects and I have learned so much in my career from observing his character. Tom is not an advocate of the random or annual volunteer day by his people. Tom understands that giving back and helping people is an attitude, a mindset, a daily way of functioning as a corporation and as a human being. Tom says “You could label generosity as a corporate culture, but really, it’s just the correct way to treat other people.”
“Where companies go wrong is if you have the attitude that nonprofits should be grateful for anything we give them,” said Bev Dribin, a vice president for the food service company Aramark, “but if it’s not providing value or it’s not something they need, it’s just activity for activity’s sake.”
Tom embodies the spirit of helping others and leads his executive team and his employees by example. He has always given weekly paid time to his employees to help out in the community. Both times I have done a brand immersion with the companies he has led, we have participated in reading to the children in the inner city, or giving out groceries to needy individuals in the neighborhood, or assisting White Fields, the home Tom started to help severely abused children in OKC. (www.whitefieldsok.com).
When I was owner and Creative Director of my previous agency, JDA, we produced the following :90 second spot on Tom as part of an ongoing campaign for “The Power of Us” for SandRidge Energy. These are Tom’s words and Tom’s heart. Words that allow the brands he touches to change the world in small and big ways every day.
Tom has inspired me to carry on the tradition of paid employee volunteer time at Fierce Strategy + Creative. Our employees are encouraged to volunteer, serve on boards, be involved in the community, or just give back in simple and special ways every week as part of effecting change in our world. The Power of Us was more than just a beautiful tagline that we wrote for a multi-billion dollar brand. The Power of Us was about Tom Ward. It’s about all of us and the magic that happens when we participate together in making our world a better place.
This work was created by the team at JDA, including Beckie Manley while serving as JDA’s Director of Creative Services (Creative Director), and is owned by SandRidge Energy.