How to set up a community outreach program for your company

Jonathan Theders, president, Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.

Businesses give back to the community for many reasons: social responsibility, brand enhancement or just because it feels good. For Clark-Theders Insurance Agency, community involvement is all these things, but it’s also a key to attracting star employees and keeping them engaged.
“For me and my predecessors, doing community service as a teenager was something you usually did when you were in trouble,” says Jonathan Theders, president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. “Now, community service hours are often part of the high school curriculum. It’s much more societal. I was just talking to a recruiter of the younger generation — Generation Y and younger, the millennials — and how a company interacts with the community and its presence on social media are the two top criteria for how they choose an employer.”
Smart Business spoke with Theders about how to set up a community outreach program.
How do you decide what kind of community service program to create?
When we started our CTIA Cares program, we looked at it from two perspectives. First, you have to determine what to give. You can give time or money, or both. Your company may be so lean that you can’t give time to your employees, so you just write the check. Other people can’t write the check, but they can give the time to their employees to volunteer once a week, or once a month or once a year.
From there, there are two ways to go. Do you want your program to have one mission, focused on one initiative like The United Way or American Cancer Society? If you put all your resources toward one initiative you can have a big financial or physical impact on that organization.
Or, do you want each employee to have the opportunity to give to something that is personal to him or her? For instance, if you love the arts, you may want to pour your energy into the arts. The person sitting next to you may want to pour his or her heart into animal rescue. You won’t have as grand an impact, but it will be a more personalized impact.
At Clark-Theders, we chose the individual route, but neither is right nor wrong. Using our example, the CTIA Cares program gives each employee 30 hours a year to donate to nonprofits of his or her choice. Then, we focus our efforts on quarterly service projects in four different service areas to help the community, in addition to the hours given individually.
How do you make that work with your business?
If they do their volunteering on the weekends, we comp them time during the week. If they do it during the week, we allow them that time off. Realizing we still have a business to run, employees must fill out a document stating how many hours they will work and when. Human Resources then has to sign off on it because our company has to be staffed appropriately, and the charity signs off that they worked the time. Also, it is a great way to gauge your community impact. For us, our only criterion is that their chosen charity organization must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
What are the benefits from a business perspective?
You can gain increased revenue and customer loyalty. The company’s involvement in the community drives brand awareness. People who see you as good stewards of the community are more likely to do business with you.
There are also personal gains for your employees, from improved interpersonal skills and self-esteem to better knowledge of social issues. I have seen the positive experiences it has had on our team over the years, which has also impacted our workplace culture. Our clients, co-workers and the community are very appreciative and take notice of our program. It was a great business decision that continues to reap rewards.
Jonathan Theders is president at Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach him at (513) 779-2800 or [email protected] Connect with him on LinkedIn at
Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.