• Marketing the value of community service

    Yesterday I spent part of the day with the Portage Rotary Club on our monthly service activity, helping box items at the Portage Resale Shop. It’s an opportunity to spend time with my fellow Rotarians and help a nonprofit that does a lot of good in the community.

    There are far fewer of us than when I first joined the club in 1997. Whereas members were once sent by local businesses that saw the value of such networking, new members often come on personal initiative, drawn to an organization that values service to the community and to Rotary International’s larger mission that includes the worldwide eradication of polio.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about the shifting business atmosphere in the region and its impact on local volunteer organizations.

    A longtime board member of a non-profit organization I’ve been involved with had to turn in his resignation when his employer wouldn’t allow him the time out of the office to participate in our meetings.

    Meanwhile, at last month’s Day of Caring organized by United Way of Porter County, plenty of corporate involvement was evident, both in sponsorships and sizable teams of employees joining the one-day effort.

    So what’s the difference between these two situations? I suppose the latter was high profile enough that local businesses saw the public relations value in unleashing their employees from their desks for just a one-day commitment. Meanwhile, a volunteer board might do valuable work, but they toil in relative obscurity.

    In today’s data-driven world, measurable indicators dictate whether a task is valuable or expendable. As profit margins tighten, maybe that service club membership expense is the first to go. When it comes to balance sheets, it’s much more difficult to count assets such as employee satisfaction, motivation, loyalty and reputation.

    This is the marketing challenge for Northwest Indiana’s service organizations. Place a value on the volunteer work done in the community and demonstrate that a nominal investment of time and money can be a benefit, not a burden on a business.