Fostering a Culture of Giving Back

November 8, 2023

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Written By: John Harris, President

Corporate charitable donations, or corporate service community outreach programs, or corporate volunteerism initiatives seem to be more common today than in years past. For some, a corporation's motivations for these programs or initiatives can often be assumed to be selfish, shallow, or worse. Many assume the corporations are solely motivated by the marketability and visibility the charitable service initiatives generate.

In the past few days I was part of a discussion where someone suggested that all corporate community service initiatives are self-serving, and only exist to allow the company to proudly proclaim, 'look how good our people are!' and this employee refused to participate in the charade of 'being good' so the executives could feel good.

In fact, a few months ago I was attending a gathering of technology leaders where someone stated that their corporate commitments to charity and diversity, massive in size and scale compared to many, were also in fact motivated because it was 'good for business,' as if the PR juice was worth the squeeze, so to speak. This made me wonder, if it wasn't good for business, would it still be important?

So maybe the place to start is this: what should motivate a company to foster a culture that desires to give back and serve the community? 

I would offer a simple concept: people are the most important thing in this world, and whenever we - whether that 'we' is defined as a company, a family unit, a community, or a nation - lose sight of the intrinsic value of people, we end up harming the most important things in the world. Every corporation, every executive, every employee, every person in this world has been helped, has been served along the way by some other person(s), whether the help that was offered was altruistic in sentiment and content, people help people.

The epicenter of a corporate culture that desires to give back and serve the community is found here: by demonstrating caring for people, by developing skills of one-another-ing, by fostering hospitality, by growing in empathy and compassion and putting that into practice, and as we encourage humility: placing the needs of others in priority over our own personal needs. Then, if nobody ever notices, if the paparazzi, so to speak, never appears, the initiatives should continue with the same passion and focus and creativity that considers people as the most valuable resource on this planet. It takes practice, we need to exercise the muscles of one-another-ing that are present in all of us. The busyness, stress, and chaos of life can cause all of us to shrink inward and prioritize the needs of ourselves and secondarily the needs of the small circle around us we regularly connect with.

If that's the baseline, the epicenter, growing in helping and serving people as the most important gift we can give, I would humbly offer a few things that have contributed to the growing culture within AE Business Solutions to give back and serve our community.

You need great people on the bus. There are plenty of definitions of great people. I'm not speaking about their corporate performance, their technical skillsets, or their resume achievements. While we desire and highly prize greatness in those regards, we fundamentally value people who care about other people. I was recently talking to a soccer coach in a competitive collegiate program with a depth of talent on the roster. He said the baseline is soccer competency/skills/excellence, that's non-negotiable and there are plenty of kids on the horizon. But he also said, as he recruits kids to the program, the other equal non-negotiable is players who care, good kids, kids you want to be around and who other kids want to be around. He won't sacrifice in either direction, but often he turns away from raw talent due to concerns about the quality of the person. Clearly, this coach values highly skilled players, tactical and technical in every way. But he's not interested in recruiting jerks and malcontents - his words, not mine. So, my advice is simple: find and retain great people who care about people and who give a rip about more than just a product, or a concept, or a service, or a bottom line.

When you have great people who care, start somewhere together. In 2020 we founded and launched AE Cares, a charitable foundation that seeks to serve and empower our community. As we launched AE Cares, two major community service initiatives rose to the top: caring for Veterans, and racial equality. The two areas of focus came from dialogue with the employees of AE, from the needs within our community and culture, from the headlines of our world, and from the passions, experiences, and desires of the AE team. When we launched, we weren't solidified on 'what' we were going to do, but we were hopeful and expectant that beginning with our focus on serving people in our community, that we would find the path together.

We had a direction and a focus, but we also desired to foster creativity in other directions. As important as the core focus of racial quality and caring for Veterans was and is to the employees of AE, we knew there would be ten(s) of other opportunities for our people to put other people first. Our third focus area was simply called AE Cares Days, the idea that employees can utilize paid time towards service hours for any place or space in their life where they desire to serve someone or something else.

We simply ask our people to encourage others to join them in their service opportunities and to post within our internal Teams channel what they did, why there was a need to serve, what they learned, and why this opportunity was impactful to them. It's been inspiring to see the diversity of ideas, the passion people have to serve in a certain way, and the excitement that people have to be able to give back.

It could probably be asked of me in writing this blog post if the potential attention to AE's community service initiatives and foundation is the priority?

I can simply tell you this. My life has been changed by AE Cares and by serving alongside the people within AE Business Solutions. My life has been changed by the people I've met, people who we think we're serving, but often we've found that they are serving us as they let us in on part of their story and share their life with us. I've created new patterns in my life because of the initiatives of AE Cares, new practices, new ways of thinking, and new relationships, and the 'newness' of it all I believe will endure for years to come.

And whether anyone else knows that or pays attention to that, it truly doesn't matter. But I also know that my friends and colleagues within AE and those outside AE who have joined us and are likeminded, that many feel the same way.

I could offer these thoughts, not as advertisements for compliments, but as an encouragement for anyone to jump in, jump into anything that puts people first.

Serve something greater than yourself and give yourself to serving others.

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