WorkWise: Professional growth through community service

Mildred L. Culp

It’s common knowledge that business owners and managers embark on community service not simply for altruistic reasons. They know that this type of engagement helps them develop business. The relationship between an employee in a company and community engagement isn’t as clear-cut.

Many companies view community engagement largely as corporate responsibility, giving back to the community and strengthening ties. Employee development is tertiary, after personal growth. Janice Johnson, corporate relations manager of the UPS Foundation at the $47.5 billion United Parcel Service, for example, loves her job. “We spin it (community service) as benefiting you personally as well as the organization,” she states. Based in Atlanta, she has global responsibilities and multiple projects. The scale of her work is much greater than the single-activity focus of her own church volunteering.

Professional Benefits

The fact that employees benefit professionally is beginning to be recognized in some corporations. Willie Murray, director of Philanthropy at the Raleigh, N.C., Landquest Development, which builds environmentally friendly communities, was a project administrator for a construction company and previously served as an advisor to students at several colleges in Raleigh-Durham. Both parents were pastors. He and his three siblings “started sharing but didn’t know we were practicing philanthropy.” The difference for him now is that his construction background, work with college students and church volunteerism “all came together.” He oversees multiple charities worldwide and reports to the company president.

“We’re in the planning stages for a project in southeast Raleigh,” he says, “taking old abandoned houses, remodeling them and building houses for people who live in the area already. We’re also opening a job-training center so that owners can be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. We’re hiring minority contractors. Some of the area is in a historic district; so we have to be really careful about following the laws.” Clearly, he’s benefiting professionally by hiring the new contractors and working within the guidelines of historic preservation.

Dan Rodriguez, Telecommunications manager at the Atlanta headquarters of the $213 million Cbeyond, a managed services provider to small businesses and leader in Voice-over-Internet-Protocol, maintains that community involvement brings extensive professional benefit to him and to his team of about 12 employees and interns. Managing internal telecommunications in seven markets, he says that senior leadership at the company “sees me more as a leader the more I’m active in the community.” As his involvement has increased, he’s received “higher profile projects” and a salary bump. “By doing community service,” he says, “you’re learning leadership and teaching it to your team. My employees have put together activities -- showing leadership by involving themselves and others. This is one of the benefits a company sees. One group can involve other groups, not just be in a silo. That increases communication among various work groups.” He recalls the woman in customer care who, at one event, was dismantling and repairing a computer for the first time in her life. “She left that day with a new appreciation and understanding of some of the daily goings-on in the IT department,” he explains.

“For me, personally,” he adds, “there are groups I rely on for support and groups that rely on me. When we go off-site to do these activities, we tend to talk a bit more and share more about our family and personal situation. This helps build personal relationships between the folks through more communication and increased familiarity. These relationships have improved my understanding of the roles of other departments in the company. Although cliché, giving back to the community is a win-win. For instance, when we donate equipment the community benefits, the volunteers get a feeling of pride, and I get my storage room back."

Dr. Mildred Culp, an award-winning journalist, also writes two syndicated columns -- WorkWise Interactive, on youth employment, and the classic WorkWise, on emerging workplace trends. Contact her at 708-672-1300 or Copyright 2007 Passage Media.