Evolve Your Culture Through Engagement and Growth

Editor’s note: This post was contributed by Leigh Christie. Leigh is Executive Director of the Entrepreneurs Foundation, where she oversees operations, consults with member companies, designs and executes strategic for-profit /non-profit partnerships, focuses on business development, manages philanthropic contributions for realized equity donors and directs corporate community involvement programs. Leigh is a lawyer by trade with extensive experience in operations, business development and project design and management. Building strategic and impactful collaborations that address community needs and support company growth is one of her passions.

Last week my work kicked off by having coffee with an Assistant Chief of Police and a Homicide Detective. Midweek I met with a tech CEO to craft a case study on his team’s skills-based community involvement. I capped off the week working with the partner of a large consulting firm (200,000+ employees nationwide) to plan their outreach around donating services to local nonprofits.

As the Executive Director of the Entrepreneurs Foundation, I work with community leaders, nonprofit organizations and tech executives to design and launch impactful partnerships. To do this, I have to understand the unique cultures and expertise of our member companies, as well as the needs of their respective communities. This insight allows me to create and nurture successful for-profit and nonprofit partnerships.

I’ve noticed a few recurring themes as companies explore how community involvement strategies can enhance their culture, support leadership development goals, and develop quality team-building opportunities. There is no cookie cutter approach, but the following trends around incorporating philanthropy to support culture can serve as a guide.

Companies with 15 … 30 … 80 employees:

  • Define company culture. What are our values?
  • Look at how community involvement plays a role in company culture.
  • Decide if philanthropy is c-suite driven, or more grassroots with c-suite support.
  • Launch an informal “GiveBack” committee.
  • Survey interests and establish what’s reasonable given workflow.
  • Determine what’s needed and when in the community.
  • Explore what’s possible beyond giving money.
  • Experience hands-on team-building opportunities with a variety of nonprofits.

Companies with a lean workforce and in startup mode are head down, as they should be. Though dollars and time are tight, they’re also looking to add team-building outings to the calendar. Yet, it’s not about scheduling any team activity. It’s about finding the best option(s) for a particular company given its culture, interests and restrictions. Focusing on what’s needed, what’s local and what’s meaningful to a company creates bonds among employees.

For example, one company team went for a run on the local hike & bike trail, then donated an hour with the nearby animal shelter to walk shelter dogs. Another took a morning break from work to help flood victims clean trash from their yards and homes. I’ve also helped sales teams, who can’t leave the office, write letters to veterans and prepare afterschool activities for underprivileged students.

Companies with 100+ employees:

  • Revisit company culture. Who are we today?
  • Reevaluate the team’s interests and what’s reasonable given workflow.
  • Fine-tune and/or formalize the company’s “GiveBack” committee structure.
  • Become more strategic with team-building and community involvement (i.e. increase activity or limit to quarterly or bi-annually where it makes sense).
  • Explore a combination of in-house and off-site community involvement.
  • Use community involvement to cross-pollinate members from different teams.
  • May or may not have dollars set aside for community involvement; begin creative campaigns to raise money for select opportunities.
  • Begin to look at whether offering skills-based opportunities in the community is a good fit right now.
  • Launch an internal blog or newsletter to highlight community involvement successes.
  • Share best practices and lessons learned with other companies.

Companies often surpass the 100th employee milestone much faster than expected. It’s a great time to slow down and regroup on community engagement. Community engagement as it relates to company culture is no exception. There is significant value in looking at what has worked well for the company and what hasn’t been the right fit. Setting goals and being strategic about community engagement when it supports company culture is good business.

For example, a company in its early days was always up for an event after work as it was a great time to unwind and cut loose. Hosting something late in the evening didn’t affect the day’s rhythm. But as the company grew, the number of employees with families and after-work commitments grew as well. Late-evening gatherings were no longer a culture fit for the company. The employees were looking for a direct connection to the community through work.

In response, the company partnered with a local nonprofit to donate its technical skills and expertise. The executives found unique ways to involve the full team with the organization. Some employees helped rebuild the website (front-end and back-end support), others launched marketing campaigns, while other employees hosted fundraisers and volunteered onsite with their brawn and sweat.

Companies with 200+ employees:

  • Culture is well defined and articulated throughout the company.
  • Includes company culture and community involvement when on-boarding new hires.
  • Provide leadership opportunities and access to the company’s c-suite through the “GiveBack” committee.
  • Support individual team members as they lead community involvement efforts internally and externally.
  • Produce opportunities that allow teams to compete for a cause.
  • Continue to strategize on the company’s North Star.
  • Consider employee matching and volunteer time off options for employees.
  • Establish effective ways to offer skills-based expertise to nonprofits.
  • Expand blog postings on community involvement to include company culture and a calendar of offerings.

By the time a company grows to 200+ employees, it often has established a committee and developed a structure, guidelines and an annual budget for supporting local nonprofits and engaging team members in the community.

One of our member companies has gone a step further, using its GiveBack committee as an avenue for leadership development. Employees who may not otherwise have an opportunity to interact with the c-suite and may not be ready for a leadership role on their team have an opportunity to lead through the GiveBack committee.

Regardless of the timing or trajectory of a company’s growth, its corporate culture is shaped by every employee who walks through the doors. For any company planning or approaching a period of growth, it’s critical for company leaders to regroup, reevaluate and move forward with purpose and intention.

Finding consistent and thoughtful ways to further company values and culture through community engagement is important, especially during times of growth. Even more important, however, is to recognize and respond when a shift in culture has occurred.