When was the last time you stopped to think about how your business gives back to the community? I did it. And what I’ve realized is that regardless of the size of the contribution, it all helps build camaraderie, engagement, and culture, all essential parts of a healthy and engaging workplace. Overall, the efforts support building a strong community where people want to live and work. Feel free to borrow what our team has learned.
Recently, someone asked me about the beginnings of our team’s community giving program. I responded by first downplaying what our team has done for nearly 20 years in central Indiana. The more I shared, the more I realized that the organic start to our community campaign was actually bigger than expected. I was struck by the size of our team of nearly 80 people. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can’t do much; together we can do so much.
I vividly remember a cold winter morning when I worked in our cozy office building on Meridian Street. A few of us were in a meeting and watched out the window as construction crews built a new skyscraper across the street. Someone commented: “Boy, I bet these guys are cold.” We made a few more comments and decided the next day to do something nice by bringing them hot coffee and donuts. We just wanted to show our appreciation for their hard work. The surprise that brought smiles to their faces made us stop and think about what else we could do for the community.
Shortly after we decided to purchase Market District gift certificates for our staff, with a hitch the certificates weren’t for them. We asked our team members to pay it forward by finding someone else in the community who needed a helping hand. And they did.
These organic projects grew into a committee that, many years later, organizes community giving projects. In recent years, support has shifted from in-person and volunteer events, like the Make-a-Wish Foundation telethon, due to the pandemic. We still found ways to give back. The common thread is a team member who drives a project forward with passion and inspires staff commitment.
Education, especially children and literacy. We partner with Tutor Mate to help elementary school children learn to read. Employees are paired with a specific student to remotely read with a child each week. We are a lending institution, so literacy efforts extend to financial education. Through our parent company First Financial Bank, we have partnered with Martin University to deliver financial literacy courses.
Support for veterans. We honor veterans at all stages, including veterans who went to Afghanistan days after 9/11 on horseback. This group of extraordinary men developed a company called Horse Solider. They travel to communities to share their story and more specifically the importance that teamwork plays in success.
Honor Flight is an organization that gives vets a day to travel to Washington DC to see our nation’s memorials. Our efforts include flag donations and writing letters for the “call in the mail,” which occurs on the flight home when each veteran receives mail with messages of appreciation for their service. Our team member who suggested we support the program, also a veteran himself, accompanied his 74-year-old father on the last trip.
Another staff member suggested supporting Our Hospice South Central Indiana, which offers a program for end-of-life veterans. We write letters of appreciation for the service that are read to patients.
Food insufficiency. These projects are supported all year round by our team. I remember years ago an organization asked for sacks of flour, and there was more flour in our hall than I had ever seen, a visual demonstration of community caring. From donations to Second Helpings and Solving for Hunger to providing food for Thanksgiving meals through the Edna Martin Center and donations from Giving Tree, our team steps in to ensure those in need in our community are supported.
About 18 months ago we were introduced to Outreach, an organization that works to empower homeless teens and young adults. Our volunteers supported the program centre, which provides basic needs, including clothing and food.
The overarching agenda for everything we do is United Way, which supports the causes and needs of our team. Our donations are combined with others and bring more power to meet the needs of nonprofits in our area.
While our framework remains flexible, the bottom line is: together we can do more. There is a basic human desire to care for others and the benefits extend far beyond ourselves and our workplaces. No matter the size of a business team, giving back makes our community better. Start small, hear what your team is passionate about supporting, and discover the impact you can have in our community.
Rick Dennen is the Founder, President and CEO of Oak Street Funding, based in Indianapolis, a First Financial Bank company with lending products and services for specialty industries, including chartered accountants, registered investment advisers and insurance agents nationwide.