At National Business Furniture, our efforts to give back to Milwaukee started three years ago when we made the decision to start an official NBF volunteer program for employees to take part in on behalf of our company.
Deciding to start the program was the easy part. We’d been calling Milwaukee our home for nearly 40 years, and most of our employees were eager to have the opportunity to give a little back to a community that we’d all grown to love. The hard part? Knowing where to begin. With so many Milwaukee nonprofit organizations in need of help and with so many NBF employees to organize, the task of starting up our volunteer program was daunting to say the least. In the end, a little hard work and a lot of helping hands made it happen, and this is how.
Put together a committee
When the decision was made to start a volunteer program at NBF, we immediately assembled a volunteer leadership council that would be responsible for organizing events and getting employees involved. One person from each department of our company volunteered to be a member of the council, which ensured that every department would have a go-to person to talk to when questions and concerns arose. Planning our committee in this way also ensured that the entire company would stay in the loop above and beyond the company-wide emails that were sent detailing each volunteer event.
Find the right nonprofits to work with
Getting a committee together at NBF was one thing, but figuring out what charities and nonprofit organizations to work with was another matter entirely. With all of the nonprofits occupying the Milwaukee area, where do you start? Fortunately, we had the opportunity to team up with the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee to streamline the process. Because they organize a Business Volunteer Council of approximately 50 companies from around Milwaukee that also have volunteer programs, NPC was able to introduce us to the right organizations that were in need of the type of help we were able to offer. NPC also gave NBF key decision makers advice as to how to gain exposure and how to most adequately utilize our budget.
Develop a plan of action
Once we had a list of volunteer opportunities, it was time to make a plan of attack. The first thing we did was survey our employees. It’s the employees who would be doing the volunteering, so we knew they should have a say in what they'd be doing. The survey asked employees basic questions related to their level of interest in volunteering as well as what types of volunteer events they would be interested in participating in.
Once the survey results were in, the NBF volunteer leadership committee met to decide on what the first-ever NBF volunteer event would be. In the end, it was decided that our first event would be planting trees for the Urban Ecology Center at Washington Park. It was something fun, something employees had shown interest in, and the Urban Ecology Center really needed our help! We had a good size turnout, and since that first volunteer event the number of employees attending our other volunteer events has grown steadily.
Make it fun
If there’s anything we’ve learned over our three years of volunteering, it’s that volunteering is about so much more than helping the community in Milwaukee. It’s also about helping the community within our own company. Attending volunteer events has given NBF employees a chance to get to know their co-workers in a setting outside of the office, which we’ve found has boosted our overall employee morale and satisfaction rate. Due to the mutual benefit of our company and our community, it’s always our goal to get as many NBF employees out to our volunteer events as possible. How do we do that? By making it fun, of course!
It’s easy to make volunteering events fun for everyone involved, even if the event is a task as unappealing as cleaning up the Milwaukee River. We’ve done things like purchasing team NBF t-shirts and offering free snacks. We even implemented a paid time off program wherein each NBF employee is allotted eight hours of time off for volunteering. Employees may use those hours to volunteer anywhere they want during the week, or they can redeem the hours at a later date should they choose to participate in a weekend company volunteer event. The time-off incentive has certainly seemed to increase the number of employees we see participating.
With the help of our volunteer leadership committee, the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee and our own employees, the National Business Furniture volunteer program has gotten off to a great start. Although volunteering has been a ton of fun these last few years, the real joy comes from seeing the fruits of our labors. The peaches of our labors, to be exact! Three years following the very first NBF volunteer event, the Urban Ecology Center at Washington Park reported that the peach trees NBF employees planted have borne fruit for the first time. Well done, volunteers!