Many years ago, writer Catherine Ryan Hyde was driving her clunker of a car home late at night through a rough neighborhood when the engine suddenly stalled. She was forced to exit her car after it started filling with smoke. To her surprise, two strangers came to her rescue. One popped open the hood of her car while the other threw his body and a blanket over the fire to put it out. Another Good Samaritan called the fire department, but in the ensuing confusion, her rescuers left before she had the chance to thank them. Out of this experience was born her now famous book, Pay It Forward, a movie version and a successful foundation dedicated to inspiring a movement of people all around the world to show acts of kindness for others.
The movement is getting bigger and bigger all the time, which is truly a testament to how small things can really make a difference in the lives of others. Unfortunately, though, when it comes to formal volunteerism, the participation rate in this country is abysmally low. Less than a third of 35-to 44-year-olds, and only 25% of adults who are age 55+, volunteer, according to BLS data from last year. Volunteer rates were lowest among 20-to 24-year-olds, at 18.7 %, the data shows.
Community banks on the other hand have traditionally been very involved in their communities on a corporate level through donations and work. Many make a difference by encouraging employees to volunteer their time and efforts in their local communities. While some banks are already doing this on some level, there's always more to be done when it comes to giving back to society.
It's fairly easy for banks to organize one-off volunteer activities such as collecting food for a local soup kitchen, clothing for the homeless in winter, or toys for needy children at holiday time. These types of collections are important, but ideally, banks should be offering something more robust as well to encourage employees to be active in their local community.
Some banks encourage participation by requiring every employee from the CEO to the janitor to volunteer their time at least one day a year. Banks may decide to partner with specific local non-profits to offer a framework that employees may choose from, like sponsoring a building day at a Habitat for Humanity house or having a team of bankers cook dinner at the local homeless shelter. Employees may have other projects that interest them as well.
Allowing employees to use time on the clock (within reason of course) for volunteer efforts also encourages participation. Don't miss out on the opportunity during sponsored projects to promote your institution by outfitting your volunteer squads with bank-branded t-shirts and caps and posting pictures of events on the bank's Facebook page.
To get the word out to customers about your activities, include pictures of employees participating in local events in marketing materials. It's also good to have a corporate volunteering page on your website to highlight your recent projects and the names of organizations you support. Customers care that their banks are actively supporting where they do business, so it offers a real opportunity to differentiate your bank from the big guys.
There's no cookie-cutter solution for successful volunteerism among employees, as every bank and every community is different. But if your bank strives each year to increase the level of participation among employees and the total number of volunteer hours, it goes a long way towards success. Being a leader here shows employees and customers you're serious about fostering the connection between community and banking, as you all help pay it forward.