Writing a check to your favorite charity is a great start to serving others. In fact, I regularly donate to a variety of nonprofits. Yet giving back in a more hands-on way creates such a tangible, rewarding experience that I can’t say enough about the process.
When you remove yourself from the office and start exploring your surrounding neighborhoods, you do more than just foster goodwill — you help sustain positive changes for the future, and those changes are visible every day in your part of the world.
Is it any wonder, then, that I’ve fallen in love with supporting The Home Depot Foundation’s mission to invest in U.S. veterans, build our nation’s trades workforce, and provide natural disaster relief?
The foundation has been in existence since The Home Depot first opened its stores, but in the past seven years, it has had an additional focus on helping veterans in need. By partnering with other nonprofits, it has been able to fund training initiatives and help senior, disabled, and homeless veterans through projects, one of which was working with the Veterans Home of California Yountville. Although I’ve only been a part of the huge annual event for two of those years, I’m looking forward to remaining on the roster.
Fostering a Spirit of Giving by Helping Without Limits
My story of partnering with a nonprofit to perform community service isn’t novel, but the lessons I’ve learned along the way have been unexpectedly profound.
When I go to build sites with The Home Depot Foundation, I don’t do it to further market my company or receive additional kudos from the merchants. I choose to take a few days to help people like Malcolm Harvey, the Navy veteran (pictured above) who enlisted at 18 years old only to spend 20 years homeless once he returned. Today, he’s a semester away from earning his master's degree in social work thanks to the U.S.VETS initiative. His journey has been rough, but he’s not holding onto anger; he plans to pay it forward by reaching out to other veterans.
I heard his story — as well as many others — while standing in a ballroom with hundreds of other volunteers from all walks of life. Everyone was so engaged in the speakers you could hear a pin drop. At that moment, nothing divided us — not political beliefs or the fact that we were competitive companies; we were united by a yearning to help those who fought for our freedom together.
Ultimately, I believe community contributions paired with monetary donations lead to healthier, stronger business environments. Why? Essentially, coming together makes people think outside their own little bubbles. My grandfather was a WWII vet, but I didn’t give much thought to veterans and how they’re treated when they come home until recently. Now, I have much more respect for those in the military and understand that they are an overlooked population, which makes me want to do more to help.
Testing Community Service as a Corporate Team
Inspired by what I experienced at The Home Depot and wanting to inspire my staff to actively give to the community, we changed up our annual holiday party. Instead of just congratulating ourselves on what a great year we had, I split people into teams and gave them each a certain amount of cash. Then, within a set amount of time, they had to give it away to the community, film it, and come back to the office and tell us the story of how they helped others. When people returned to the office, the comments were similar — they thought it was the best party we had ever thrown. We even made a movie out of all of our experiences and showed it at a recent office meeting.
This isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t donate funds. You should. Organizations depend on financial generosity, and not everyone has the time to fix up a playground or mentor someone on interviewing skills.
Still, if you get the opportunity to take your team members out of their comfortable workplace and make a difference, you’ll get much more than you bargained for in return. In fact, you might just discover that leading from a community-first perspective could be the secret ingredient for higher employee engagement and happier customers. Plus, your head will always hit the pillow at night with the knowledge that you did the right thing.