Community Service: Drawing On Staff Involvement

Trying to pick a charitable organization for your association to sponsor or donate to? Why not let staff choose? The American Road and Transportation Builders Association picks a new one every two months by drawing staff suggestions out of a hat.

This week, as first responders and volunteers help residents in Moore, Oklahoma, comb through debris and piece together what remains of their homes, feelings of community are abundant.

Similar feelings arose after the Boston Marathon bombing last month and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, last December. The latter was the impetus for an organization-wide community outreach initiative at the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Whoever is chosen can pick an organization or nonprofit to collect donations for, with ARTBA matching total employee contributions.

“The Newtown, Connecticut, event was a game-changer,” said Matt Jeanneret, ARTBA senior vice president, communications and marketing. “It was a catalyst. It was a call that it was time to do something—to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk.”

ARTBA staff had been discussing a community outreach initiative for a year or so before the shootings, but soon after that event the association set up a four-part service initiative, taking a democratic, inclusive approach from the beginning.

To get the ball rolling, ARTBA organized a lunch late last year with staff members to discuss possible charitable activities the organization could participate in or sponsor, and from that initial meeting it was clear that people were already giving back in their personal time.

“A lot of the staff was already involved in their own charitable or community activities in their neighborhood,” Jeanneret said. So the first part of their new initiative became allowing staff the flexibility to continue doing that work.

“If they need a day of time, or if they need to leave early, or if they have some commitment during the day that’s related to their volunteer work, we as an association are allowing them to do that,” Jeanneret said. “People are encouraged to do their own thing.”

The organization is also “crowd-sourcing” charitable donations. Every two months, ARTBA staff members can drop their name in a hat, and whoever is chosen can pick an organization or nonprofit to collect donations for, with ARTBA matching total employee contributions. So far this year the association has donated about $1,500 each to Kidsave, which works to pair orphans and foster children with families and mentors, and to a Hurricane Sandy relief aid organization.

It’s an interesting and personable method for getting people involved. Chosen staff feel like a winner and get to do good. Jeanneret said since they started the drawings, more and more staff have expressed interest in putting their names in the hat.

The third prong of ARTBA’s community outreach initiative includes a dedicated day of service in October, when interested staff can take the day and work with Food and Friends, an organization that prepares and delivers meals to people living in the Washington, DC, region with HIV/AIDs, cancer, and other illnesses. (Staff also voted on which organization to work with during the day of service.)

Jeanneret said that as part of a longer-term project, the association is also looking for an organization to work with to help disabled veterans and improve their mobility, an issue ARTBA members deal with every day.

Depending on the size of your organization, ARTBA’s approach to service may or may not work, but if you’re thinking of getting more involved in your community, Jeanneret offered some advice: “To borrow from the Nike tagline, ‘Just do it.’”

“We proved that once we set our mind to it, we could pull something together pretty quickly,” he added. “And in our own way I think we’ve been able to make a difference in a short order, so I would tell people ‘If you’re thinking about doing it, just go do it.’”

Does your association have a unique way of giving back to the community? Let us know in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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