With just one flathead screwdriver and two hammers, 26 Bank of America employees spent an afternoon collaborating to assemble 70 trikes for the Salvation Army Christmas Center. The result of the afternoon brought more than smiles to Charlotte families, it left each employee feeling a deep connection to their coworker.


“We recognize that volunteering is a fun, meaningful way for us to strengthen our community, while also providing employees with a chance to come together and build relationships with each other,” said Bill Lorenz, GT&O Business Operations & Process Controls executive at Bank of America and chair of the Advisory Board for the Salvation Army in Charlotte.


Supporting the community through volunteerism is a value many companies include in their annual planning without really knowing why they should do so beyond altruism. But both academic research and real-world experience show this form of engagement can pay off in important ways.


“Team building is always a component of corporate volunteering,” said Leslie Rink, director of volunteer engagement at United Way of Central Carolinas. “A feeling of accomplishment towards a greater good can add common ground and lead to enriched conversations between staff members across departments.”


Organizations have long searched for opportunities to engage their employees and create a lively company culture: Friday morning doughnut runs, employee teamwork retreats and even Bring Your Pet to Work Day. But each of these ideas, and many more like them, failed to create the lasting impact each employer planned.


In 2016, Deloitte conducted an Impact Survey in 13 major metropolitan areas including Charlotte — interviewing more than 2,500 respondents who have the ability to either directly influence hiring or indirectly influence the person making the hiring decision. The survey showed 92 percent of respondents agree volunteering improves employees’ broader professional skill sets and volunteering is an effective way to improve leadership skills.


On the opposite side of the interviewer’s desk, PwC discovered 88 percent of millennials gravitated toward companies with pronounced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, and 86 percent would consider leaving if their employer’s CSR program no longer met their expectations.


An increased focus on CSR has made companies look at the value of engaging with their employees through volunteerism to establish company culture and provide professional leadership development. This has led to an upward rise in servant leadership, a term referred to when a company and their employees join together to provide hands-on service to create a better community and world.


“Providing opportunities for our employees to volunteer in our community, both individually and as teams, has been a strong contributing factor to gains in employee engagement within our company,” said Scott Krull, vice president, global commercial leader at Ingersoll Rand. “The work they perform in the community allows them to see the impact that they and the company are having — making for a far richer experience.”



Servant leadership creates a sense of pride and positive atmosphere with employees. Volunteerism creates a positive feeling that just feels good to employees and companies alike — whether it is a small project, like sorting clothing at the men’s shelter, or a much larger one like building a house for Habitat for Humanity.


Ingersoll Rand and Lowes Home Improvement employees know this feeling very well, as both companies engage their employees to volunteer across Mooresville and Lake Norman for United Way’s annual Days of Caring in the fall. This large-scale activation connects employees with projects that serve neighbors in impactful ways.



Servant leadership can provide a means for team building. When gathered together as a group and as equals, employees open up — sharing more than just how their weekend was or what they had for lunch. Volunteerism acts as the medium to create memories and forge bonds across departments. Onsite volunteer projects have been adopted by businesses throughout Charlotte to provide an accessible outlet for employees to connect, build relationships and feel fulfilled by giving back to their community.


From day one, Atrium Health brings together new hires for an afternoon of volunteering. On average, 150 new hires join Atrium Health each Monday. These employees spend their first afternoon on the job working together to fill backpacks with healthy food items to support Second Harvest Food Bank. By Friday of that same week, as the new hires are settling into their routines, the backpacks are in the hands of students who need them. Employees continue to volunteer throughout the year for a variety of community service opportunities, ranging from mobile food pantries, and reading/ mentoring programs to free medication distribution.


“Employees are increasingly looking for companies that have a strong sense of social responsibility. Effective community engagement is important for attracting and retaining great talent, but also for maximizing impact in the communities you serve,” said Lois Ingland, AVP of community and civic engagement at Atrium Health.



It can be difficult for busy professionals to find the time to continue to develop professional skills and discover opportunities that allow them to give back to the community. Which is why more and more companies are incorporating programs such as leadership training, nonprofit board training and volunteer projects into their business model.


During Wells Fargo’s annual Day of Caring, in addition to volunteering at hands-on projects across multiple locations, team members can attend a board training to learn more about what it means to serve on a nonprofit board and how to get involved locally. Servant leadership programs can help employees build skills for their current role or help them demonstrate leadership qualities to grow into their next role within the company.


Corporate volunteer projects can provide employees with additional professional development opportunities such as learning project-management skills, leading a group, evaluating what
project fits the company’s philanthropic mission, working within an allotted budget, recruiting volunteers, marketing the project and collecting the proper supplies.


The workplace is changing. Now, more than ever, companies are trying to instill a company culture that attracts young, ambitious talent with new policies and practices: flexible work hours, working remote, casual Fridays and internal staff rallies. But servant leadership and volunteerism can more deeply mobilize a company’s culture.


In Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace Report, 51 percent of employees said they would change jobs to gain flextime that includes volunteer hours.


Many Charlotte-based companies have created an office culture of service with teams passionate about volunteerism — with donation matching programs, paid time off toward volunteer hours, onsite volunteerism and more. These opportunities also bring team members together from companies that have adopted flexible schedules and work from home models.


TIAA is celebrating their Centennial Anniversary this year through the 100 Days of Difference campaign. Employees are taking part in community service projects around the country, including many right here in Charlotte organized with United Way’s Hands On Charlotte. TIAA and United Way have a yearlong partnership that includes offering customized volunteer opportunities and event sponsorships.


“At TIAA, we know our strongest asset is the talent of our employees, and we encourage them to share their skills with their local communities,” said Jarian Kerekes, senior director of corporate social responsibility at TIAA. “To celebrate our Centennial year at TIAA, we’ve organized 100 days of volunteer and engagement opportunities, including working with United Way of Central Carolinas and Hands On Charlotte to contribute to over 120 local projects in which our employees can get involved in meaningful ways. Service to others is at the heart of TIAA’s mission and
volunteering provides employees with a sense of purpose, as well as a greater connection to their community and coworkers.”


But the question remains, “Where do these companies find the time to volunteer and plan all the activities?” The answer is, they have help.


Hands On Charlotte is one of the many ways United Way brings people together to build a stronger community. With flexible volunteer opportunities for companies, individuals, and families, Hands On Charlotte offers a diverse variety of projects so groups and individuals are able to choose projects based on their interest at times that are convenient to them. Projects cover United Way’s five-county footprint and range from sorting clothes and food to building a playground or tutoring.


“So much can be accomplished when our community comes together,” said Bob Young, Director, Volunteer Strategy & Planning at United Way. “Whether planning a corporate day of service or looking for a way to plug in with your family outside of work, folks can take advantage of our wide variety of available project types to explore the kinds of activities that suit their interests and passions.”



Large or small, corporate group volunteer projects allow employees from individual departments or across the company to come together to do good with their peers. Hands On Charlotte offers opportunities for one-time group projects such as tiny library builds, tricycle builds, snack packs, hygiene kits,thank you cards for troops and more.

Hands On Charlotte also works with companies to create ongoing engagement opportunities to offer their employees, such as long-term place-based opportunities or daylong celebrations.


Place-based opportunities give volunteers a chance to create longterm change in a specific neighborhood through projects like adopting a school or classroom. These projects go deeper and create conversation with the community about where volunteers can help the most. Volunteers return on a recurring basis to create lasting impact.



Volunteering as an individual may seem challenging to organize. With Hands On Charlotte’s calendar program, it is easy to find opportunities listed for each day of the week so individuals can select what best fits their interest and schedule.


Volunteers can also donate their time through skill-based volunteering, which includes tasks like accounting, business consulting, marketing services, etc. Skill-based volunteering is a great way to network and build experience while making an impact towards the nonprofit’s mission.


In addition to individualized volunteer experiences, United Way’s Hands On Charlotte offers signature events several times during the year to celebrate volunteerism. Special events are fun, family-friendly volunteer opportunities open to everyone.


For over 27 years, Hands On Charlotte Day has celebrated volunteerism, community engagement and civic activation in our city by getting hundreds of volunteers out to do good. Friends, family and coworkers throughout the community lend a helping hand with diverse projects across the city — from sorting food at Second Harvest Food Bank, or sprucing up the Lakewood Neighborhood, to a family-friendly project at Blythe Elementary School. The day offers a wide array of ways for community members to give back.


These events unite hundreds of volunteers to engage in meaningful service and provide a taste of what United Way’s Hands On Charlotte offers throughout the year.


Special Events Include:

  • MLK Call to Service | January
  • Hands On Charlotte Day | April
  • Live United Day | August
  • Days of Caring | September
  • Service Juris Day | September
  • Charlotte Playground Build | October


“Each event helps to shine a spotlight on the power of volunteerism to create change in our community,” said Sean Garrett, executive director of United Way. “Now more than ever, volunteers can contribute their personal passions, best ideas and unique strengths to leave a lasting mark on people’s lives.”


Get Your Company Involved

Engage your employees and show Charlotte your true corporate values by making a difference in the neighborhoods where you live, work, and play.

Learn more about our corporate volunteer opportunities.


This article was published in April’s edition of the Charlotte Business Journal which showcases companies throughout the Charlotte region making true impact by engaging employees in corporate volunteerism.

Read More Articles