Though this year was a difficult one for many, it is now more important than ever to come together (metaphorically) as a community and support each other. December is the “Season of Giving,” and whether that “giving” be a physical gift, monetary donation or even your time and efforts, everyone should strive to pitch in a helping hand. 

In other years, donating time and money to those in need was as simple as signing up for a shift at a local food bank or throwing spare pocket change into the Salvation Army buckets outside of grocery stores, but as we’ve all come to learn – this is no normal year. Social distancing guidelines and other health precautions have made volunteering opportunities more challenging to find – especially for offices and workplace teams.

With many offices still working solely remotely, businesses have to be creative in their new approach to workplace charity initiatives. For example, my company, Merritt Group, has its annual Merry Week of Giving, a long-standing tradition during which employees take part in a week-long initiative focused on volunteering and donating to those most in need. Each year, the selected charities, which are usually on a local scale, are collectively evaluated and voted upon by employees, ranging from DC Central Kitchen to Northern Virginia Family Services. This year since the employees can’t all be together for this highly anticipated week, Merritt Group turned being remote into an opportunity to broaden the reach and pull resources to support national charities who are helping those impacted by COVID-19. As a part of this effort, we will be conducting our first ever Merrython charity virtual run in December to benefit No Kid Hungry. We’ve invited friends, family and professional contacts to participate and spread holiday cheer. Merritt Group was lucky to continue our work with a few of the charities we support year after year, including shopping for eight children through the Salvation Army Giving Tree program and writing holiday letters for Cards for Hospitalized Kids – both activities that can be conducted in the comfort and safety of our employees’ own homes. 

When planning a virtual company-wide charity initiative, there are a few items to keep in mind to ensure a fun, impactful and safe opportunity to give back. 

  1. Familiarize yourself with state and local social distancing guidelines. If you’re planning a volunteer opportunity that requires employees to leave their homes, safety should be the number one priority. Identify what are acceptable practices within your area and in accordance with your company policy. It is also important to get a sense of your employees’ comfort levels with activities you are considering before you execute. Just because an activity is allowable by the state does not mean that every employee will feel comfortable doing it. 
  2. Gauge interest from your employees. There are so many nonprofit organizations that could benefit from volunteering and donations – whether they are nationwide organizations or locally based. Also top of mind this year are organizations with causes pegged to recent events, such as natural disasters or racial injustice. I found that sharing a company-wide survey and allowing employees to voice their opinion on organizations or causes they are most passionate about is a great way to ensure everyone is invested in the effort and more eager to get involved. 
  3. Get creative. With safety and your charity in mind, you must brainstorm how you can combine the two. What activities can be done individually and at home? Even with everyone separated, what can be done to collectively strive toward a common goal? For example, this year to spark new ideas, Merritt Group developed a larger Merry Week of Giving committee with newer employees. This collective approach sparked different ideas and creativity across each of our business practice areas.   
  4. Brand it to spark engagement. The most successful company charity initiatives are the ones that spark excitement among employees. Go all in on internal marketing. Give the initiative a catchy name, make it a competition, create t-shirts and prizes for those who are most successful, and get them involved in the promotion on social media and beyond. Employee engagement will spark motivation to give back and even elevate company pride.  

As the holidays near, there is an opportunity to rethink approaches so you can keep your traditions albeit in a different way. In these unprecedented and challenging times, there has never been a greater need to take virtual action and support non-profit organizations that are most in need. This is not only an opportunity to do good for local and global communities, but also a way to encourage and engage your employees in a new and meaningful way.