Architects and engineers have a profound impact on the communities in which they live and work. Through attention to form, function, and structural design, they create the spaces that make our communities livable and safe. Their work has a direct impact on the quality of our lives.
Sustainable design has been a hotbed for discussion as the industry grapples with the call to minimize negative environmental impact and inspire connection with nature. While the details surrounding implementation give rise to debate, the broader goal of service to the community guides forward movement. Yet sustainable design is far from the only way in which a pool of creative, critical thinkers can serve vital social interests.
An employer-sponsored community engagement program provides the means for employees develop their skills, ignite their passions, and address social needs. From a public relations perspective, the firm stands to gain ground with its corporate image and relationships forged with influential community stakeholders. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Community engagement pays dividends in professional development and training.
Pro bono projects can exercise leadership skills in terms of project planning and design, budgeting, resource management, team communication, client management, and more. Board service provides a window into the full spectrum of disciplines required to maintain a going concern – e.g., strategic planning, development, external relations, program management, human resources, fiscal management, information technology, facilities, etc. These experiences build competencies among new associates and broaden horizons for seasoned professionals. Placements related to the built environment – e.g., facilities selection, construction, or remodel – elevates sensitivity to form, function, maintenance, and cost, and informs future design work.
Community engagement appeals to millennials.
Since over a third of all U.S. workers are millennials, employers need to institute strategies that make their culture magnetic to this generational cohort. In Achieve’s 2014 Millennial Impact Report (MIR), a company’s involvement with causes was the third most important factor when applying for a job. In the 2015 MIR, half of millennial employees said they’d participated in company-sponsored cause work. Of those, seventy-nine percent felt they’d made a difference through their involvement.
Community engagement fosters teamwork and boosts morale.
Purpose work allows employees to deepen their relationships with one another while doing work they find rewarding. Shared passion cements bonds that encourage congenial relationships at work and employee loyalty.
Community engagement builds business relationships.
Pro bono work can lead to paid engagements when nonprofits or their Board members, funders, community partners, or clientele go to bid for work.
In order to realize the benefits of a community engagement program, it must be designed and administered in excellence. High-impact programs leverage the following best practices:
Commitment by Senior Leadership
Community engagement is a reflection of organization’s values. The company’s leadership puts these values into action by their personal example as well as the policies and programs they institute – e.g., paid time off for volunteer service, matching funds for employee donations, company-wide volunteer work days.
Intentionally Designed Programs
Successful partnerships lie at the cross-section between the needs of the community and employee skills, passions, and/or leadership potential. They consider opportunities to build internal and external relationships. And, of course, they need to be consistent with the image the firm wishes to project. All of these factors demand time at the planning table to set program parameters and identify criteria for implementation.
Employees need to weigh in on program design to ensure that it aligns with their professional goals and personal interests. They are key resources for marketing the program internally and rallying support for project work. They provide valuable feedback for continuous improvement. Ideally, the program becomes employee-driven as it matures.
Nonprofits must have the capacity to leverage volunteer talent in a way that makes a measurable impact on their mission. This impact could be felt in terms of broadening their influence, expanding their reach, improving their outcomes, lowering their operating costs, or bolstering their organizational capacity. Projects may leverage professional competencies or simply take advantage of kind hearts and able bodies. In either case, they should produce quantifiable results that make the effort worthwhile.
Companies celebrate victories as a collective while the leadership acknowledges and rewards individual achievement.
A great volunteer experience can give an individual a tenfold return on their investment. A great community engagement program has the potential for an equally satisfying and profitable return for your business.