When is the last time you stopped to think about how your business gives back to the community? I did. And what I realized is that no matter the size of the contribution, it all adds up to build camaraderie, engagement, and culture—all critical elements of a healthy and attractive workplace. Bigger picture, efforts support building a strong community where people want to live and work. Feel free to borrow from what our team has learned.
Recently someone asked me about the beginnings of our team’s community giving program. I answered by at first downplaying what our team has done over nearly 20 years in central Indiana. The more I shared, the more I realized the organic beginning of our community campaign was in fact more significant than we intended. It hit me what our team of nearly 80 people does is significant. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
I distinctly remember one cold winter morning working inside our warm office building on Meridian Street. A few of us were in a meeting looking out the window watching construction crews build a new high rise across the street. Someone commented, “Boy I bet those 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 appreciation for their hard work. The surprise that brought smiles to their faces made us stop and think about what else we could do to the community.
Soon after, we decided to buy Market District gift certificates for our staff, with a hitch, the certificates were not for them. We asked our team members to pay it forward by finding someone else in the community who needed a hand up. And they did.
Those organic projects became a committee that many years later organizes community giving projects. Support in recent years has shifted from in-person events and volunteering, such as Make-a-Wish Foundation telethon, due to the pandemic. We’ve still found ways to give back. The common thread is a team member who brings a project forward with passion that ignites staff to engage.
Education, specifically children and literacy. We partner with Tutor Mate helping elementary school children learn to read. Employees are partnered with a specific student to remotely read with a child each week. We’re a lending institution, so literacy efforts extend to financial training. Through our parent company First Financial Bank, we partnered with Martin University to teach financial literacy courses.
Veterans support. We honor veterans in all stages, including vets who went into Afghanistan days after 9/11 on horseback. This group of extraordinary men developed a company called Horse Solider. They go into communities to share their story and specifically the importance teamwork plays in success.
Honor Flight is an organization that gives vets a day to travel to Washington D.C. to see our nation’s memorials. Our efforts include flag donations and letter writing for “mail call,” which happens on the return 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, escorted his 74-year-old father on the latest trip.
Another staff member suggested supporting Our Hospice South Central Indiana, which has an end-of-life veterans’ program. We write letters of appreciation for service that are read to patients.
Food insufficiency. These projects are supported year-round by our team. I remember years ago an organization asked for bags of flour, and there was more flour in our lobby than I’ve 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 Giving Tree donations, our team steps up to ensure those in need in our community are taken care of.
About 18 months ago we were introduced to Outreach, an organization that strives to empower homeless teens and young adults. Our volunteers supported the program center, which provides basic needs including clothes and food.
The overarching program for all that we do is the United Way, which supports the causes and needs our team supports. Our donations are combined with others and bring more power to fill the needs of our area non-profits.
While our framework remains flexible, the bottom line is this: Together we can do more. There is a basic human desire to take care of 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, listen to what your team is passionate about supporting, and discover the impact you can make in our community.
Rick Dennen is the founder, president & CEO of Indianapolis-based Oak Street Funding, a First Financial Bank company with customized loan products and services for specialty lines of business including certified public accountants, registered investment advisors and insurance agents nationwide.