How to give back to your staff, community and industry

Ian Cowley discusses the ways in which a company can go beyond just selling a product and actively engage with others.

We read all the time about the importance of giving back. But what does it actually mean and how can you do it effectively for your business? In my view, giving back can mean one of three things. Giving back to staff, to the community, or to your industry and peers. Here are some tips to get started:

Giving back to staff

We like to hold regular events to give back to our staff. We want to create an atmosphere and a community that people want to work in; it’s simple, but often overlooked. Charity days and different themed occasions help to bring everyone together.

For example, we’re set to hold an international cook-off day soon, where everyone on the staff has chosen a country and will bring in food from that place. The winner gets a £50 meal voucher.

The ideas and prizes are best kept simple; this isn’t about grand gestures. It’s all about organising things and getting people involved. Once people know it’s happening, it creates a buzz and gets people engaged.

HR come up with with a lot of the ideas for us and we try to do something every few months. We’ve had lots of great feedback from people who we know normally wouldn’t get involved in this sort of group activity.

If you’ve never done anything like this before, find inspiration from upcoming events such as Comic Relief or Children In Need, things on TV, sporting tournaments or seasonality. We had a pumpkin-carving day last Halloween that went down very well.

It’s very important to bring staff together from different departments. The biggest thing we see is that when people are happy at work, their motivation goes up and we get more out of them.

When we hold days for specific charities, whatever is raised by the staff, as a business we match that. It goes down really well as these are causes that people are obviously passionate about. It also demonstrates that we care about the things that matter to them.

We also offer training for staff in the form of NVQs. We have technical staff coming to us with an idea, course or conference that they believe it would benefit them to go on.

If someone can justify something, we are open and flexible. People are often anxious to ask, most people don’t ask. As a manager, you often have to pre-empt this by identifying the opportunity and asking the question they’re too scared to. However, if people can demonstrate that they will bring value to the business, it’s a good thing.

Doing good in the community

Giving back can also be viewed as a business doing good in their community, as some form of corporate social responsibility. On a simple level, this could mean that if a member of staff coaches a children’s football team, it wouldn’t take much for us to sponsor it, provide shirts with our name on, and get some free publicity and advertising.

Similarly, one of our staff is a scout leader and we have backed some of the activity that he’s done with his group. We host the scout pack’s website, and he’s bringing his boys into the office to do their badge in IT skills.

A lot of businesses do champion a cause and support it in a variety of different ways. That could be staging different fundraisers, volunteering staff to work on projects in the community or giving a donation of profits. It’s something that hasn’t been on our radar up until now, but we do plan to look at it. We’d like members of staff to nominate causes that are close to them and we will most likely choose several throughout the year to support.

Giving back to your industry

Giving back to your peers and industry can be through mentoring. Making time for people in your industry is a great thing to do, whether that’s suppliers, vendors or even business owners in a similar line to yourself.

It does them – and you – good to help. It’s all about fostering the community and improving standards. Ultimately, it all comes back and helps you and your business too.

It’s so easy to say ‘we don’t have the money, we don’t have the time’ to get involved in giving back. As a business owner, you must take a long-term view. You have to be positive.

A common first reaction when any kind of giving back is suggested is along the lines of ‘that’s going to take time, money, I’m too busy’.

However, once you have done a few of these things, it’s easier as you see the benefits both to staff and the business. If you keep putting it off, it gets harder to take the first step.

Finding someone in your business who enjoys coordinating and organising is a good step as they can take an idea and make it happen.

Similarly, you might have someone in your business who enjoys speaking at conferences and can give back to the industry by sharing knowledge and best practice. That way it doesn’t become a chore, but an enjoyment to them.

Further reading on business management

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley is managing director of

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