By Biff Matthews
Malcolm Gladwell's best seller, Outliers, opines that all highly successful people have benefited from "a community around them that prepared them properly for the world." I believe community is not just important for what it does for us, but for how we return the favor.
Community, I think, has three spheres for most of us in the payments industry: The first is at work and consists of management and co-workers. Next, there is our customer community, and then there's the outside community in which we live.
At CardWare, we have a Community Committee. One of the committee's missions is to identify - or create - worthy causes or events, centered within our town, that the majority of our employees would be enthusiastic about supporting. The committee - and everyone involved with its work - is self-directed and passionate about the causes they're supporting with their time and energy.
Notice I did not mention checkbooks. While charities and service organizations always welcome money, there are fewer discretionary dollars available today in corporate or personal accounts. Combine that with an economy whose future seems less than stable, and the bottom line is that the outlook for charitable giving is not favorable.
In fact, donations in virtually all categories (except religious) declined in 2008, with the biggest decline - almost 13 percent - affecting services groups providing aid to the disadvantaged.
What we can give, though, is what many of us have more of right now: our time. And that presents opportunities that can be substantial - and sometimes surprising.
Most communities have numerous nonprofits that need help. We've been involved in several direct-impact causes such as food pantries, and children's causes like mentoring. (The latter, these days, brings on mind-numbing paperwork, background checks and other roadblocks, but that's a different article.)
Hospice Foundation of America, Habitat for Humanity and Breast Cancer Awareness are just a few excellent community-centered causes that both welcome new volunteers and are set up to manage them.
My challenge to readers of The Green Sheet is to recognize that, for a change, time is something we have more of. Consider taking stock of your own corporate citizenship and what it might mean to you and your community. Consider organizing, with your staff or co-workers, a community committee, in which the company and employees can work together to contribute to something worthwhile.
It's hard to go wrong with anything that helps children. The same goes for animals, emergency shelters of any kind, and special-needs facilities, such as burn centers. The most entrepreneurial among us can even create a cause from scratch.
Several years ago, Rotary International had a program based in Carmel, Ind., that worked with sales teams that sold medical equipment. Doctors upgrading their equipment usually faced the question of what to do with old equipment. Rotarians picked up the old equipment and drove it to a facility where it would be fixed.
Other Rotarians then delivered the overhauled equipment to medical facilities in Central America. The team also worked with the manufacturers to make sure the doctors received a tax deduction. It was very creative and might be my favorite example of the "Doin' it right" theme discussed in recent issues of The Green Sheet. It certainly illustrates the idea that we all have sales, recruitment and managerial skills that can be put to use for worthy causes.
Giving a boost to a worthy cause can have tangible rewards for the recipients and the community, but purely from a self-interest standpoint, the rewards for volunteers can be substantial as well. Good causes, and the special events that surround them, produce positive media attention, as well as excellent networking opportunities for employees and employers alike.
In this regard, always participate in charitable work wearing apparel that tastefully shows off your company logo. And if there's an opportunity for your business to donate supplies or other goods as part of the activity, make sure the merchandise is handsomely logo'd as well. This is all about recognition - and perception.
And because perception is important, it is advisable to meet beforehand with staff regarding their participation in charitable events. It's wise to have a light, informal discussion regarding both aspects of a community volunteer's role: responsibility, appearance and propriety on one hand and the potential of networking on the other. All of our employees have business cards (some without name or title), and the contacts they make while volunteering often ask what they do. Our cards feature a high-level menu describing what we're about. Encourage employees who don't have personalized printed cards to hand-write their name and job title on company cards and distribute them freely.
Since media will often cover charitable events, identify a point person in the organization who can be interviewed - and is assertive enough to engage a reporter who is looking for a good source. Wherever you invest your time, it's critically important to celebrate the results of good works. Recognize staff members who participate with news items or small ads in local newspapers.
Mention the program and its participants in company newsletters. People feel good about contributing to worthwhile causes, and recognition is a wonderful reward.
The second type of community, customer communities, can be leveraged in similar ways. Choose a cause with universal appeal, not the hot-button, divisive issues with which we're all too familiar.
The cause can be related to what you do locally, or something entirely different. Introduce a program whereby your customers have the opportunity to contribute in small increments -1 cent per transaction, or a $1 match, which would entail adding $1 to the customer's invoice and matching it with $1 from your company, for example.
Invite customers to participate; then recognize those who do in your company's newsletter, Web site and e-mail promotions.
Issue a news release about the program and its participants for trade publication. Offer to write an article about your program, and the customer's participation, for your customers' own internal newsletter. Like personal sales networking, the multiplier effect has powerful potential to reach those whose opinions and influence can be helpful to you.
Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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