United Way
of Whatcom County

GIVING GETS THINGS DONE. The business case for volunteering.

October 9, 2018

Staff Writer: Tera Contezac

The most successful companies out there are made up of employees who are highly productive and generally happy people. How do they do that? How can you do that? It’s not hard to find research that supports the notion that happy people are more productive – 12% more productive, according to a 2015 CAGE study. Once we understand that to be true, the next step is figuring out how to make people happy.

The answer: Provide opportunities to be nice.

Fifteen years ago, I took my first college sociology class. On Day One, the professor posed this wild idea that there is no such thing as a selfless act. I thought of myself as a kind and generous person. Here he was telling me that was selfish?

Now, after a decade of non-profit work and my current role as a fundraising professional, I realize that professor was right. Helping others feels good. The warm fuzzies we get from doing nice things and being generous lift our mood. Giving can’t be selfless, because we can’t escape those warm fuzzies we get in return. And we like them. But, so what? That’s not a bad thing.

I absolutely encourage everyone to selfishly give back to our community as much as they can. Why not do something nice for others if it makes you feel good too? That’s the point. It’s a win-win.

The best businesses understand this, so it’s no surprise that SHRM’s 2018 Employee Benefits Report revealed 24% of businesses now offer paid time off to volunteer. When colleagues volunteer together, they engage in team-building, yes, but they also get to experience the no-such-thing-as-a-selfless-act rule. Volunteering feels good. It leads to happiness, and we’ve already agreed that happy employees are more productive employees.

Williams gets this. Every fall, they come to United Way in search of a service project. The Williams team is a skilled bunch. They can handle hard work. They can handle dirty work. So, this year we paired them up with our funded partners at Mercy Housing Northwest who needed some help with end-of-season work in their large community garden.

They cut out blackberry bushes and mowed the fields, tilled the garden space, laid fresh mulch, and built new raised beds. It was hard work, but for a good cause. And they were smiling the whole time.

And, why shouldn’t they have been? They made a big impact. Mercy Housing Northwest Resident Services Coordinator Lindsey Karas said, “We were able to bring the kids out to see the garden transformation and they were so excited. This will enable us to expand our educational programming.”

I asked Williams Operations Manager Tyson Green, why Williams does a service project each year, to which he told me, “One of Williams’ core values is to contribute to the communities we live and work in.  The United Way model creates a sense of community, so it aligns with our values.  Service projects are a big part of our United Way campaign because they give our employees the opportunity to both make an impact and see the impact of the agencies supported by United Way.”

Volunteering isn’t the only answer. Williams offers other ways for their employees to feel good. They participate in a workplace giving campaign and allow employees to spread their donations to United Way throughout the year via payroll deduction. As if payday wasn’t already a great day, now it comes with a giving-back pick-me-up.

Plant the seeds for happiness by encouraging your employees to donate in whatever way they’d like – be it with their time, their money, or both.  All those non-selfless acts will add up to a lot of good for our community, and hopefully a highly productive workforce for your business, too.