November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Community Works

If you are looking to begin an employee volunteering program at your company, you might be wondering how to make it successful and sustainable. We all have good intentions to start a program that is designed to help others in our community yet clients and our work take top priority. Time and resources are tight especially at small businesses. How do you fit it all in, make it all work and keep your commitments to those you wish to help? While there is no easy answer to this and each path is different, we hope our story can help those of you who wish to champion your own philanthropic initiatives.

Our initiative began when a favorite tradition ended. Until 2011, Fathom had a tradition of producing a digital game or card for the holidays. We spent quite a bit of time and resources into producing them, and had a lot of fun too. Many agencies do the same in attempts to outcreate each other. That fall, however, we were questioning whether we should carry on the tradition. The card was a one-time event, something that cheered people up during the holidays, and then went away. Plus, only a few of us had the chance to work on the project. We began to wonder: was there some other way that we all could participate in the spirit of giving together, and make it last throughout the year?

We started with a coat drive for friends of Joe the Barber, a very generous and kind man who gives free haircuts to those in need every Wednesday in Hartford’s Bushnell Park. As the months went on, we found others to help: Groton, Connecticut Headstart and two little boys who lost their mom, Aid to Artisans, Lou Golden and team at Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, Sara Avatapalli and Dress for Success and Dave Murphy of One Little Boat. With each experience, we wanted to do more. But, our days are packed. Adding in time to help others during a workweek filled with priorities and deadlines was a challenge.

Bruce Kaechele in action with kids from Lincoln Elementary School in New Britain, Conn., during our day with Junior Achievement.

Fast forward to Fall 2012. We are in our new space in West Hartford, busy with work and adjusting to our new space. Conversation about where to put our time are happening daily. Our commitment to not give up on our volunteering efforts without compromising our clients called for real structure.

We formed a committee. We gave it a name, Fathom Community Works, and we clarified the purpose, which is to use our time and talents to deepen the positive impact that others are already making in the world. Then, we set to work on creating the parameters. We decided that we wanted a program that provides opportunities for each of us to volunteer individually, participate in team activities (like our day with Junior Achievement) or collaborate on a company-sponsored project, such as One Little Boat.

Creating these levels of engagement was critical. From there, we turned to the operations brain in the group, Jenn Ford, to help us determine how and when we would spend our time. For instance, the individual volunteering time is a pilot program where employees are given a specific amount of time to volunteer during their workweek. That way we can track what they do, when they do it and the impact it had on each of them. With the team activities, we determined that we would choose one event per season that everyone in the company could participate in together. We chose a theme for this year’s team events, “Nourishment,” and we’ve chosen to work with nonprofits that fit within that theme, are located nearby and can work within our schedules.

The trickiest nut to crack, and this is one we’re still working on, is our involvement in company-sponsored projects. These are projects where we donate our time and talents to help a nonprofit with a specific challenge. For instance, One Little Boat began as work to name, design and build the website and launch the initiative to generate interest, more support and sponsors. Now, we are helping them with the next project, which is to document and promote the building of the next boat and creation of design plans for a fishing village in Haiti. The project is amazing and one we fully support. The tricky part is determining where we donate time and how much to ensure One Little Boat gets what they need, and our day job doesn’t get compromised.

For these time-intensive projects we decided that we would only do 1-2 per year and that the idea needed to be approved through a business case presentation that provides specific reasons as to why Fathom would get involved and what we hope to achieve in doing the work. Essentially it comes down to effort versus impact. If we are investing a high amount of effort into an organization, what do we expect the impact to be, for us and for them?

I know I can speak for the Community Works Committee — Laurel, Louisa, Jenn, Molly, Kate and myself — when I say that we have learned a lot over the past several months. It was a challenge moving random acts of kindness into a rigorous program but the time we invested behind the scenes has returned ten-fold. We have teammates who are excited about participating, curious about what’s to come and feeling good about we can make it work in an ongoing basis. And now, on to making it happen in 2013.

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Posted by: Suzi Craig
Email the author: suzi@fathom.net