Why a Volunteer Culture Matters
There’s much to gain for businesses that decide to be upstanding corporate citizens.
By ERIC SCOTT |
In the same way Hollywood “feel-good” movies cheer us up, and
how supporting socially conscious companies makes us feel like
we’re making a difference, more accounting firms and corporations
are stepping up their “good neighbor” efforts to perk up the people
they employ and communities they serve. Don’t believe it? Consider
the Illinois CPA Society’s annual CPA Day of Service, which was
held on Sept. 28, saw a record number of nearly 1,500 accounting
and financial professionals across the state step away from their
keyboards for a day to give back in some way.
Indeed, there’s no shortage of positive vibes when businesses support
work-related volunteerism and encourage their employees to
contribute time — and maybe a little elbow grease — to give back
to the communities they serve. But is there more of a bottom-line
focused component when considering company-backed volunteer
programs? Are more businesses realizing they stand to gain more in
terms of staff morale and reputation enhancement, and maybe even
a competitive edge, by being upstanding corporate citizens?
“It has brought us together,” says Amanda Ehret, marketer and
volunteer coordinator at CPA firm Mowery & Schoenfeld LLC (M&S)
in Lincolnshire, Ill., noting the firm’s launch of a formal volunteer
program has produced a noticeable change among staff.
“Those in our tax and audit departments sit in their cubbies and don’t
always get a great chance to talk; we saw people who usually don’t
work together get together on projects, talk in hallways, go to lunch.
It brought us together as a group and it’s been bringing the firm
together,” Ehret says encouragingly.
Marcy Steindler, CPA, principal at Mann Weitz & Associates
(MW&A), a mid-sized firm of about 30 staffers in Deerfield, Ill.,
echoes Ehret, noting that her firm’s volunteerism efforts not only bring
staff together to support good causes but also goes a step further in
encouraging shy-types to become more engaged.
“It brings out people who are usually quiet but have a passion for
this,” Steindler says. “It’s nice to see a different group of people come
up to the plate. It also makes all our departments act as one firm.”
For the Illinois CPA Society’s CPA Day of Service, MW&A’s office
manager and volunteer activity coordinator Heather O’Brien led a
team of colleagues at Habitat for Humanity’s Lake County ReStore
in organizing tiles and other building materials which will be used
for home building and improvement projects.
WHAT’S RIGHT FOR RECRUITMENT
Organizations that have fully embraced staff volunteerism are finding
that giving back isn’t only appealing to current employees — it’s also
attractive to potential recruits who, in a robust labor market, are
increasingly critical of the companies they go to work for.
“We use photos from our volunteer efforts at our campus recruitment
events — it’s one of the first things that we get asked by recruits
and students on campus,” Ehret says. “You can tell it’s really
important to them.”
M&S goes a step further in linking volunteerism with its recruitment
efforts: “Anyone who has accepted an offer gets invited to our
volunteer events before they officially start at the firm. It’s awesome
because they know their colleagues before they even walk in for their
first day,” Ehret says.
And while an organization’s volunteerism efforts might be attractive
to prospective employees, it turns out they’re also attractive
to prospective clients. “We often go on proposals to get business and make sure potential clients know what we do,” Steindler
explains, pointing out that MW&A has many not-for-profits in
its client portfolio, so making it known the firm values volunteering
in surrounding communities is an important step during new
WHAT’S RIGHT FOR BUSINESS
Some questions are bound to come up when businesses decide to
adopt a culture of volunteerism: Which organizations should we
support? How much time should we devote to volunteering? Who
decides what we do? At many organizations, those questions fall on
a volunteer committee.
“It does take time to schedule and sign up for events, track down
sponsorships, organize drives, and budget for everything. Having
our M&S Cares committee really helps. One person plans drives,
one person plans sponsorships, and one person handles scheduling.
We meet once a month and make sure our efforts are on track,”
As will need to be the case for most accounting firms, M&S
balances time devoted to volunteering with busy season and filing
“We’re aggressive in the summer. We go in groups of four, twice a
week, every week in the summer,” Ehret says of the volunteer
schedule at M&S. “We really experimented with spreading out
activities with an overall staff goal of 400 volunteer hours.” For this
year’s CPA Day of Service, Ehret coordinated a volunteer team at
Twice as Nice Mother and Child, an organization in Lake County
that serves as a diaper bank and provides other basic children’s needs
to families in crisis. “We pick a theme, so we won’t be spread too
thin,” Ehret explains.
In similar fashion, MW&A also schedules volunteer efforts in
advance and gets ideas on organizations to support from its staff.
“We poll our partners about which of our clients need a personal
touch — who we could support by showing some love and giving
our time. Then I start contacting them to see what we can do to help
in our window of time,” O’Brien says.
WHAT’S RIGHT FOR EVERYONE
The noble aspects of volunteerism haven’t changed. The fulfillment
of knowing that a few hours of volunteer service really make a
positive impact on the future of an individual, a family, a community,
or the planet, is a huge reward. What has changed — or at least what
has become more obvious — is that the positive aspects volunteerism
brings to individuals and communities can be realized by businesses
as well. Improved morale among staff, an enhanced reputation
among customers and clients, a meaningful tool for recruiting and
onboarding talent and clients. These are just a few of the business
benefits that stem from embracing a culture of giving back. With all
those positive factors in play, more businesses should be climbing
on the volunteer bandwagon to do more in their communities.
It doesn’t matter if a large company has hundreds of willing
volunteers or if a small firm has just a few dedicated staffers — the
numbers of people and hours involved don’t equate to the thoughts
and efforts being any more or less meaningful. Business leaders who
don’t take volunteering seriously or believe staff time should only be
spent on things that matter directly to the bottom line should take a
deep look at the cultures they’re fostering, the sustainability of their
organizations, and the legacies they want to leave behind. There’s
no doubt that embracing a volunteer culture can be profitable — in
more ways than one. Just ask the 1,500 Illinois CPA Society members
who took the time to give back during the CPA Day of Service.