Management Matters: Make Your Service Initiatives Sustainable

Corporate service initiatives are quickly becoming standard for any organization that wants to attract and retain employees eager to align with organizations that weave social and community responsibility into their culture. But a one-time event won’t truly engage or develop employees. Both employees and community members will see it as ‘lip-service’ - just a way the organization can project an image that is out of sync with its corporate practices.

Service initiatives are not a fad. Corporate and organizational responsibility is an issue that comes up more and more for prospective employees. They don’t just want to align themselves with good community partners; they want some of their time at work to be spent working with and benefiting directly the community in which they live and/or work.

If you want to integrate socially responsible efforts and avoid superficial ‘feel-good’ efforts, there are some things you can do:

  • Use your existing talent. Ways to help the community should be integrated into the daily activities of the employees. Helping out at the local homeless shelter at Thanksgiving is a nice thing to do, but helping out every week or month makes a different and more powerful statement. Donations weekly add up to create meaningful relationships with recipients.
  • Look down the chain: ask your suppliers and vendors what they do as community service initiatives and determine if they have service programs. Their activities can reflect on your business. You might even be able to partner up.
  • Keep it quiet. One aspect of responsible corporate service programs that seems consistent is low visibility. This is not an opportunity for PR getting attention; it’s simply the way we do business. Promote it in-house to employees know and can get involved instead of using it as a PR opportunity.
  • Is it making a difference to the recipients? That’s how you know it’s of service! Connect the dots and highlight personal stories for your employees so they can see how the initiative is making a difference in people’s lives.
  • Not every program will work. Low participation or unexpected negative outcomes can cause you to reevaluate or stop an initiative. That’s called learning. Not every idea will be successful but every effort is an opportunity to integrate service programs into the company culture. Learning from what didn’t work has value.
  • Inventory what can be reused or donated to help others. Make activities fun, simple, and streamlined. Measure the results and make sure people are aware of the impact.
  • It doesn’t have to just be for the community. It can be a staff morale booster. An internal program that supports employees going through an especially difficult or challenging situation can provide much needed help to an employee in addition to an emotional lift to the organization.

Keep in mind - One thing you don’t want to do is pressure your employees to participate. It undermines the whole effort. Keep service initiatives flexible so that people can contribute in ways that they are comfortable doing so.

Clarify the link between what your employees are doing and the outcomes of their actions. Learning about the impact of your programs and events in the community is powerful. That is the best way to make your service initiatives sustainable.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 25 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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