The December 26 tsunami in Asia suddenly brought the need for global volunteerism into sharp relief. Many companies, large and small, have stepped up to the plate, contributing money, time and resources.
Community-conscious employers have long made it a practice to give employees time off with pay to volunteer a day here and there to a worthy cause or particular nonprofit organization. But not many companies give employees a week—and pay the airfare—to encourage global volunteerism.
Creative Consumer Concepts (C3), a brand-marketing agency in Overland Park, Kan., is one that does. C3 employees may volunteer up to 40 hours through the Global Community Service Program to travel overseas to do community work in foreign countries.
Bob Cutler, CEO of the company, started the program after traveling to Russia and Jerusalem to do community service work. "After coming back from that trip," he says, "I realized I wouldn't have had that opportunity if it wasn't for all the support and hard work from all the people I work with. I wanted to make the same opportunity available to our associates."
C3 already had a program in play that allowed employees to work up to 40 hours in the local community, but the turnout wasn't what Cutler expected. "So I thought to myself, why not raise the bar a little and do something crazy? Why don't I make this community service program international?"
Within the first two months, 10 out of 40 employees volunteered for the overseas program and more are planning to go. Joy Merrit, an associate art director at the company, is going Tutova, a small town in northeast Romania, and will be working in a hospital with infants who are failing to thrive. She hopes it will be a fulfilling experience, but knows it will be a labor of love. "I think volunteerism is very important," she says.
Cutler says community service brings balance to his workforce. "When somebody of average ability has more than average success, that person shouldn't attribute it to himself," he says. "It's important to recognize you have an obligation to give back and do for others."
Cutler hopes the experience of giving back will help employees learn pride, self-actualization and self-purpose. "Those things are pretty powerful, but they're difficult to teach," he says. He also hopes that more small- to medium-sized companies will start programs like this. "Maybe we'll create a new model," he says.