Community service doubles as team-building tool

Community service is a popular (and some say necessary) element of agency life. Team-building activities are also a popular and necessary element. So why not put the two together?

Community service is a popular (and some say necessary) element of agency life. Team-building activities are also a popular and necessary element. So why not put the two together?

That's exactly what firms across the country are doing. Agency leaders say combining good deeds with the concept of bringing employees together is a way to "kill two birds with one stone." Among the benefits, they say, are a more unified workplace, the perception that it is a desirable place to work, and even a boost in the firm's bottom line. Sometimes, it's possible to pull a trifecta - serving the community, team building, and making a client happy - all in one shot.

That's what Manning Selvage & Lee CEO Mark Hass did when he joined the board of the Hands On Network (HON), a volunteer organization that is also a favorite of Bob Nardelli, CEO of The Home Depot, one of MS&L's largest clients. Previously, Hass says, every MS&L office "did something, but it was not an organized effort. We really didn't use those activities fully to help connect the values of individuals who work for us with the values of the organization."

Under the aegis of HON, MS&L organized volunteer programs throughout most of its North American offices. Last September, employees in the New York office (including Hass) took a day off to help renovate a school in Queens.

After building shelves for the day, Hass says he felt the double satisfaction of doing good and helping his staff forge a closer tie with their company. "When we hire new people, we ask what their expectations are of their employer," he explains. "A lot of people, particularly younger people, were all saying that one thing they wanted was a context in which to be socially responsible... that became an important motivation for them."

Smaller firms, too, often have strong community ties that provide built-in opportunities for employee service. At Charleston, SC-based Rawle Murdy Associates, projects that contribute to civic advancement have long been a cornerstone of the agency's work. "I've always felt that in business, it is really important to apply your skills not only in service of the clients you serve, but in service of the community," says chairman and founder David Rawle.

To that end, the firm has pursued projects to increase Charleston tourism, boost environmentally sustainable development, and bolster the city's reputation as a Southern haven for arts. "People want to work where there is a distinct culture," says Rawle. "If you give back to the community, you get so much back in... personal enrichment."

Kathy Sacks Group, a five-person boutique in Phoenix, schedules quarterly group volunteering days. Each quarter, a different employee is designated to pick the activity. Agency president Kathy Sacks says that even though staff members have to give up some of their own time for community service work, they are willing to do so because they genuinely like one another - and the activities are fun.

"Teamwork is monumentally important to getting the client work done," Sacks says. "[This] is a very meaningful and authentic way of building teams."

Key points:

Tying team building to community service can make employees value the exercise more

Firms are responsible for giving back to the communities in which they operate

A mix of pro bono PR work and traditional volunteering can maximize benefits

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