In the 20+ years I’ve been covering natural disasters as a staff newspaper photographer (and now freelance photographer), I often come across companies and employee volunteers jumping in to help their communities recover from flooding, storms, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and other catastrophes. Their instinctive responses are heart warming.
Still, even in today’s world of ubiquitous communications, I’m often struck by how few corporate do-gooders take time to document and share their efforts. Lowe’s (the North Carolina-based home improvement giant) is an exception worth pointing out.
In full disclosure, I’ve been hired by Lowe’s dozens of times in recent years to create photos for annual reports, marketing materials, public relations/corporate communications needs, and also community-service activities like I’m showing in this blog. I’m hired as a freelance photojournalist (I’m not a staff photographer for Lowe’s).
In this particular event (Lowe’s employees helping to clean up Live Oaks, Florida after Tropical Storm Debby flooded the area in June 2012), Lowe’s donated money and products to the American Red Cross and first responders. Employee volunteers (called Lowe’s Heroes) jumped in to lend a hand. It was a spur-of-the-moment response, but Lowe’s also thought to give me a thumbs up to document the rescue and cleanup efforts. (I was in Chicago wrapping up a shoot for another client when Lowe’s called. A helpful US Airways ticket agent quickly got me re-routed to Florida and everything clicked into place).
Lowe’s gets my professional respect not just for jumping in to help, but also for taking steps to tell employees elsewhere in their footprint about what’s happening in and around their Florida stores.
At many other events, such as with Rebuilding Together or Habitat for Humanity builds, Lowe’s employees volunteer side by side with the employees from other major corporations. Often, Lowe’s is the only one who hired a professional photographer to capture their efforts.
As a photojournalist, I’m naturally biased when I argue that all companies should photograph their community efforts. If anything, they are great for the corporate historical files. Many times, the photos are helpful in annual reports or on the corporate website or blog. Always, strong photos help connect the companies with their single largest stakeholders: their employees.
In an August 6, 2010 article, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that many corporations have changed their corporate giving practices in response to economic difficulties. Some 54 percent of corporations were encouraging their employees to volunteer more, The Chronicle reported. Unfortunately, the article didn’t show how this percentage had increased from better times.
What caught my attention in the article was a paragraph connecting corporate communications about employee volunteer efforts with increased worker satisfaction levels. In that case, according to the article, Microsoft found that just publicizing its volunteering program to employees in Microsoft’s Egypt operations sparked workers’ satisfaction with the company’s commitment to society there. Microsoft told The Chronicle that workers’ satisfaction jumped from 61 percent to 91 percent (as determined by an internal survey).
A year earlier, in a November 15, 2009 article, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported interesting findings from a poll by LBG Associates and LBG Research Institute. Polling more than 8,000 workers and 213 managers of volunteers from 36 companies, researchers found that nearly 71 percent of employees surveyed said their employer’s volunteer program made them feel “more positive” about working there.
Personally, I argue that companies must go beyond just encouraging volunteerism and helping employees find volunteer opportunities in their communities. They should — no, they must — share those volunteers’ stories. Don’t just say X number of employees turned out to help flood victims move their possessions to higher ground.
Instead, share the words of the military vet as he pulled an American flag from the mud.
Talk about the smiles an employee brought to flood victims’ faces as he belts out an impromptu song while strumming a child’s pink plastic guitar with bright blue butterflies.
Share one employee volunteer’s quiet utterance that “there but for the grace of God goes I.”
As humans, we instinctively want to give and help others. Applaud employees when they do. If you are in corporate corporate communications, take steps to share their stories in order to inspire others to help as well. The key, I believe, is communicating these stories across your corporation.
And when you do, strongly consider photographing their efforts. The photos you get back just might become a valuable tool in your communications tool kit.
August 1, 2012 | Categories: corporate social responsibility photography, disaster response photography, employee volunteerism, volunteerism | Tags: corporate communications photography, corporate disaster response, corporate giving, corporate photography, corporate volunteerism, csr photography, disaster relief, employee volunteerism, employee volunteerism photography, how to photography corporate giving efforts, how to photography corporate volunteerism, hurricane debby, Lowe's, lowe's heroes, natural disaster photography, Patrick Schneider Photography, photos of employee volunteers in action, tropical storm debby | 1 Comment