Once a year New York City is overcome at 5 p.m. with color-blocked swarms of people donning shiny new running sneakers; people whose eyes are still glued to their BlackBerrys monitoring the market close; an assembly of ethnically-balanced, clean-cut 22- to 45-year-olds wearing a version of the shirt, "JPMorgan Corporate Challenge: TEAM MORTGAGE-BACKED SECURITIES!" Garish? Indeed. Nevertheless, there is a lesson to be learned from the Wachovia Water Bottle squad.
My thirteen years as a Girl Scout and several years imbibing the Wall Street Kool Aid, led me to wholeheartedly believe that the workplace should foster charitable giving and teamwork -- no matter the stage of the company. In my former life, I worked at an investment bank, where at least one day a year we were required/allowed to donate a day to "Community Teamworks," and participate in a charitable program. I cleaned parks in Brooklyn, served meals in soup kitchens, and mentored underprivileged youth on personal finance. Wall Street "maximizes value" a bit differently, insofar as the service days coincidentally fall on the same days as the photo shoot for the Annual Report.
An important lesson I extrapolated and continue to develop is the need to establish process and foundation for social impact early on in companies -- no matter the stage of the venture. My most trusted colleagues were those with whom I spent those Teamworks days. This altruistic foundation fosters a culture with roots firmly planted on the socially conscious spectrum of kindness and giving. Further, the environment and cause forges bonds amongst coworkers that could not be replicated through a shared Dropbox or a Monday morning meeting.
I run a start-up. We are frugal with funds, prudent with payrolls, and worry about waste. Nevertheless, there are so many ways to creatively contribute and establish a corporate culture to continue the tradition. Here is my approach.
1) Evaluate your altruism.
Pick what kind of altruist you want to be and analyze your motivation. If funds are flowing and donations on behalf of your company are an option, spend wisely. If a company chooses to buy matching headbands, raise money from Facebook friends and bring along a photographer to prove the event happened -- there is societal benefit in that as well. My suggestion is to optimize this process for your company's situation, and make sure to consider the unquantifiable benefits that occur on your own company's side -- teamwork, spirit, and time spending bonding over non-traditional work activities. These decision inputs would include: the size of your team, budget, leadership inclination, and mission of the company itself.
2) Create shared value.
This year at our company Christmas party, we spent a portion of the evening writing Christmas cards and making gingerbread houses for a residential foster care facility. We delivered these by hand, along with Christmas trees and cheer. Total cost? $150. Surprising the children was incredibly gratifying, but beyond that, the positive spirit in the air amongst our own team was palpable. I witnessed people who rarely worked together, in part due to their proclivity to stay behind their laptop screens, bonding over frosting-piping and giggling over their poorly engineered graham cracker rooftops that perpetually squashed their "perfect homes." The amount of shared value we created far surpassed the $150 outlay.
3) Use what money can't buy.
Talents in the start-up world run wide and deep. I have met the most creative, innovative people I have ever met along this journey. Like artists who donate paintings for auctions, we have skills and creations that we can use to help inspire others around us and create more value than the dollars we can donate. As our friends at Skillshare have shown us -- there is tremendous value in knowledge sharing. Start-up leaders are inspired; they have the ability to take risks. Some are whiz programmers, while others create brilliant concepts that the world has not yet seen. Start-up teams have qualities that are rare and valuable. I would urge people to share these attributes.
If we think about it... Wall Street charities funds foundations, foundations source programming, and the programs attempt to hire people with similar skills as we have amongst ourselves in the start-up community, to work on their projects that are commissioned by the Wall Street dollars. It becomes quite convoluted. Take your mission and carry it out with your own team!
4) Rally support around who is important to you.
Lastly, be attuned to what is important to the people around you. Whether it is cheering for your colleague at his basketball league games or by donating to a friend/coworkers Kickstarter project -- helping people in their pursuit for charity makes you a part of the process itself.
No matter your role in a company, the type of company in which you work, or the financial state of your professional life, everyone can do something. Wall Street firms might have big bucks, but there is no leg up on the size of one's heart and creativity. The foundations and processes we establish early on yield exponential returns in perpetuity.