Many people want to volunteer and help others, but don't follow through because they can't find time in their schedules. For PR pros who often work long hours, finding time can be a daunting challenge. Agencies tend to focus on ensuring employees are fully billable and thus don't always create an environment that permits the staff time to volunteer.
Yet the Corporation for National and Community Service's recent study, "The Health Benefits of Volunteering," noted that, over the past 20 years, there has been a growing body of research indicating that volunteering provides individual health benefits in addition to social benefits.
Since Engage PR was founded, our agency has had a strong commitment to regularly serving the community. Our service improves morale, creates a team atmosphere, and allows our staff to spend time with people outside of their community of coworkers, friends, and clients. I believe these factors help to improve professional development.
Knowing the benefits, how can firms integrate a community service program into their agencies?
First, commit to it. Make it a part of your business plan so it does not fall by the wayside. One thing that works well at my firm is that we as a company are dedicated to completing a community service event each quarter. The management team donates billable hours to ensure that employees have time to focus on volunteering. It seems like a lot, but for most employees, it equals a few hours per quarter.
Get the employees involved. We motivate employees to participate by asking them to select the organization they are most passionate about. A small group coordinates the event from beginning to end, giving that group the opportunity to take pride and ownership of a project, all very important in a PR professional's career development.
As most agencies are planning for 2008, this is the perfect time to make a community service plan for the New Year. Here are some recommendations to get you started:
Based on client and employee demands, identify what's realistic and commit to it;
Identify events where either the agency or one department can participate together;
Involve employees by having them coordinate the details from contacting the organization to coordinating all of the logistics;
Make volunteer service a priority year-round;
Finally, make service a team-building event to bring a stronger sense of community and bonding to the firm, community, and staff.
I have seen first-hand how implementing these approaches provides the many benefits of service to both the firm and community. At this time of year, when we look towards others in need, let's decide to remember them all year long.
Jeannette Bitz is VP and partner at Engage PR.