Regardless of our line of work, most of us want to feel that we have a sense of purpose and are somehow contributing to the betterment of the world. Measuring our impact, however, is difficult to do for us not directly involved in community-oriented work. That might be just why more and more companies are getting on board with volunteer programs and similar initiatives.
Creating a culture of giving back does more than just boost employee morale; it can be beneficial for companies’ bottom line as well. In fact, studies show that allowing time for employees to participate in volunteer opportunities can lead to a happier and more productive workforce. According to the 2017 Deloitte Volunteerism Survey, 89% of respondents believe that companies that sponsor volunteer opportunities offer a more enjoyable work environment, and 36% believe that volunteering can help them build new skills (1). So, there’s huge potential for companies that facilitate a culture of giving back.
I can personally vouch for the fact that contributing to your community enables you to find meaning in your work and aids in your professional development. Aside from allowing me to pursue my passion for assisting underserved communities, my 5 years of working in the nonprofit sector helped me build skills –– such as empathy and adaptability –– that continue to allow me to excel in my current career as a marketer. That is why, although working for a nonprofit was not my true calling, one of the main reasons I chose to work at Act-On was because of the organization’s strong culture of giving back.
Since I was hired last fall, our marketing team has worked with Forest Park Conservancy and Oregon Food Bank on separate volunteer opportunities. These events have inspired my peers and me to reflect on how we can invest our efforts toward creating positive change in our community. When it comes to our everyday work, volunteering as a team has strengthened our group dynamic and enabled us to come back to our marketing roles with a renewed sense of determination and a fresh perspective.
If you need further convincing that implementing a culture of giving back can have a positive impact on your bottom line, here are a few ways that implementing a culture of giving back can improve the performance of your marketing team.
Serving Your Community Helps Build Empathy
A key component of effective marketing is being able to understand our target customers’ main pain points. While market research — such as focus groups and surveys —can be extremely useful in helping us gather information to create our customer personas, truly understanding our customers requires us to put ourselves in their shoes from time to time.
Although practicing empathy is crucial in our line of work, it’s not something that comes naturally to many of us. Unfortunately, this skill is also not one that can be easily learned in a classroom or cultivated in a seminar. To build empathy, we have to go outside of our comfort zone, try to see the world through the eyes of our audience, and understand the life events or circumstances that have led them to where they are right now.
Volunteering provides a perfect avenue for us to do just that because it forces us to see issues faced by individuals in our community through a different lens. Taking the time to serve others enables us to come face to face with people in our community, better understand their story, and visualize how we can improve their lives. This exercise not only allows us to understand how we can make a difference in our community but in the lives of our customers as well.
Volunteering Teaches New Skills and Promotes Collaboration
Participating in a volunteering activity is an excellent opportunity for your marketing team to bond and build new skills. Stepping into a new environment allows every individual on your team a chance to step into a new role and work with each other in ways that you’re not accustomed to in your everyday work.
Allowing your team to explore different roles also enables you to see your peers’ hidden strengths and talents, which is useful insight to have when you’re looking for ways to develop and grow your team. For example, you may want to enlist the individual who coordinated your volunteer event to run your next marketing event. Or you may notice that somebody on your team does extremely well with planning and project management and can encourage them to use those skills to help your team construct a marketing plan in the future.
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Being in a New Environment Helps You Learn to Adapt to Change
One thing I’ve learned through my own nonprofit and volunteer experience is to always expect the unexpected. That is an important lesson to remember, especially working for a marketing automation company, where our goal is to make marketing work more predictable and efficient. The truth is that, despite our efforts to streamline work, life often throws you curveballs in the world of business and you have to be ready to respond.
Volunteering is an excellent way to prepare your team to deal with surprises in the workplace because it requires them to be in a new environment and learn new tasks quickly and on the spot. Even if your volunteer activity only lasts for a few hours, your team will gain some valuable practice in adapting to new situations so when the next surprise campaign initiative comes their way, they’ll be ready to tackle it head-on.
What to Do After Your Volunteer Work Is Done
A mistake many teams make is taking time to participate in volunteer activities but not reflecting on what they’ve learned and how it impacts their work. Therefore, your volunteer work should continue as a conversation in the workplace.
After every volunteer event, provide an opportunity for your team to share how the activity made them feel, what they learned, and how they hope this experience will influence their work moving forward. Implementing this practice will enable your team to see the value in the work that they just completed and visualize how these new learnings connect to their everyday work.