‘Don’t these people know what kind of a difference they could make?’ This is the frustrating refrain I would often think of throughout most of my career in the non-profit sector. I had a holier-than-thou chip on my shoulder when I thought about the well-heeled corporate volunteers who would parachute into a service project, bestowing upon us lowly programmatic nonprofit folks their presence and occasional resources. We would bow, scrape, and appreciate them while wondering, ‘Where the hell are you when I’m on-call, overnight at a homeless shelter? Where are you when I am engaging a young person in the throes of an unthinkable trauma? Where are you when I am shouldering the emotional baggage of my staff pouring their souls into the community on a daily basis?’
In May of 2018, I found out where they were. They were working. They were working really, really hard. It was May of 2018 when I left behind my career in the nonprofit world and joined the for-profit ranks with the high hopes–among many other things–of establishing a corporate responsibility program that would be dynamic, robust, and consistent. It would incorporate skill-based volunteering to take advantage of my genius-level colleagues and work with wonderful, deserving organizations that are doing the yeoman’s work that I used to do. Most importantly, we wouldn’t just parachute in or rely on the program staff of an organization that is already short on resources because I know how hard it is to be in that position. I know firsthand how it feels when nonprofits are taken advantage of so the corporate bigwigs can get their group picture.
Like many other times throughout my life, I was humbled. Ironically, for all my career experience, I lacked empathy. I needed to see volunteering from the other side. My company, Tamman, is a professional services firm that does amazing work in the digital accessibility and technology spaces. We at Tamman believe that access to information is a human right. People look to the web for all sorts of information and activities, from the essential to the trivial. We work hard every day to ensure that this is not restricted based on a person’s individual use constraints. I love Tamman’s mission. For someone who has spent much of his career doing important work in the community, identifying this service with both my vocation and my identity, this mission seems like a natural fit for me. Tamman is led by people who share this passion and who value bringing real good into the world. As it turns out, these people do in fact know the difference they could make and, more importantly, are making it every day. The values of my colleagues mirror the values of those with whom I worked in the non-profit sector. But there is a lot that goes into running a business, creatively coding a website to be fully accessible, and delivering for clients on time. At the end of the day, our products and services require human hours to deliver. Fewer hours means fewer projects completed; it means fewer accessible web properties; it means fewer people with access to vital information; it means a smaller business. Taking time away from our work has real-world consequences that go far beyond our bottom line.
This is why Martin Luther King Day of Service is such an important day for Tamman. It is a day to get out of the office and volunteer in meaningful ways. Even this takes planning, organization, communication, and a lot of effort so that people who live across six different states understand the different kinds of opportunities they have and what important impacts they’re making. Previously, we would gather and use this opportunity to bring the whole company together for a day. Yet, this is the epitome of ‘parachuting’ in. As leaders of a company that genuinely cares but also has genuine constraints on time, we were determined to do something about this. While Covid put a stop to our mass gathering to volunteer, it also put a spotlight on a potential solution for us.
We worked with our internal teams to honor this important day of service, but to do so in a way that allowed individuals to decide how comfortable they were with gathering together. Tamman’s signature site this year was a youth-led clean-up effort in the Norris Square section of Philadelphia with the awesome Kensington Soccer Club. Other projects included:
- Making toys for homeless animals
- Food deliveries and pantry work
- Projects with the schools and churches
- Plenty of virtual opportunities with groups like Repair the World
We were joined by millions of others around the country who generated a massive impact in a single day to honor a legacy that transformed our country. So, what’s our solution for this not being just one day in the year?
When we shifted our annual ritual to support our staff on a more individual level, we realized that our colleagues are passionate volunteers in their own right and on their own time with organizations that are local and important to them. We celebrate that. In fact, we need to celebrate that throughout the year. In 2022, we are finally launching Tamman Cares, a way to put company recognition and company assets behind that personal work. When I stepped back and thought about all that we do collectively, I was really impressed. I don’t yet have an account of all the selfless hours my colleagues have spent at animal shelters, delivering meals, working at community organizations, coaching, mentoring, and more, but now I have a new lens on what impact looks like. It’s not parachuting in for service when examined from the individual perspective. Our dollars can follow that and make it more meaningful.
While I have developed a greater understanding of the challenges facing companies giving time to nonprofits for volunteer days, it doesn’t let any of us off the hook. We will continue to examine ourselves and find improvements to ensure that we are doing what we can in our communities, and your employer should too. But I’d ask that employers not just advocate and allow volunteer hours, they should also give money. Corporate dollars can be incredibly impactful as they are usually unrestricted dollars. Unrestricted giving allows organizations to use that funding to pay for all the things that other funders restrict. Unrestricted dollars are like manna from heaven multiplying the investment in these organizations and communities.
Digital accessibility is a big mission and responsibility, but my friends and colleagues who are still working day in and day out for community nonprofits are also facing challenges that I know we can all impact. Thoughtfully. Together.