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Charlie Myers: How Smaller Companies Can Give Back—A Step-by-Step Guide

It’s up to you and your leadership team to decide how best to engage.
Charlie Myers
Charlie Myers

This is the time of year when most of us look forward to winding down and spending more time with our families and friends over the holidays. As we wrap up 2015, we reflect on the personal and business milestones we have achieved before next year arrives. That window of reflection, albeit brief, is a good time to share the bounty that a healthy economy brings with it.

Living and working in North Texas clearly has its advantages. Most businesses have grown in the past few years, hired more people to help with that growth, and posted stronger profits to their bottom line.

Still, there is an aspect of doing business in this region that has always been healthy and that provides a great guide for leaders to followthe way that we give back to our community. In the commercial real estate industry, the biggest giver is The Real Estate Council, which has contributed more than $10 million to nearly 100 nonprofits. That’s the big daddy of real estate givers. Trammell Crow is another one.

I have always admired one of our great clients and good friends, Jackson-Shaw, which has a foundation that has given more than $280,000 since it was established by the firm. And the company spreads its donations around, to worthwhile organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas, the North Texas Food Bank, and the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.

Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. is another example. I am inspired by the work of their foundation and their volunteers, who work tirelessly for organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, among others.

Some years ago, I volunteered to be “boots on the ground” for an entire year, working in the radiology department at Children’s Hospital one night a week. I learned a lot from volunteering there, assisting in the lab, helping with X-rays, and working with children whose lives were in upheaval due to illness. My children have always been very healthy, and the contrast remains a strong memory of how fortunate our family has been.

Most recently, one of our executives, Justin Jeffus, traveled to Uganda with a group from My Superhero. The organization raises money for distribution through Children’s HopeChest, and the trip was to dedicate a new building at Jacob’s House orphanage.  Justin’s group spent 10 days reviewing additional projects that are being considered for micro-financing—an important source of support.

There is a quote from scripture that, in essence, says, “To those to whom much is given, much is expected.” Our industry continues to thrive and benefit from being in a robust region where jobs and opportunities are plentiful. So how does a smaller company engage in community? And what are the key things to consider for becoming involved and giving back? Here are some recommended steps to take.

Step One. The first step is easy: Commit to doing something. Just start now. It’s the season for giving, although we believe a year-round approach is best. We also lean toward putting our employees in the field, while supporting many worthwhile causes with donations.

Step Two. The second step is more methodical: Make community engagement a part of your long-term planning process. Without a plan, weeks can fly by, and, before you know it, your year is almost over without any community participation. I can’t think of a better way to expose your leadership team than to lend an executive to an important community organization, or to commit annually to an effort that impacts your local community. It reflects well on your culture and your company.

Step Three. The third step is modest: Do the small things that demonstrate you care. Some of the most successful give-backs involve simple things. We have pitched in to clean up alleys in older neighborhoods where help was needed. We rebuilt and furnished a home in McKinney for an elderly couple. And when a single mom who was pregnant lost her home and all her furnishings to a fire, we collected and delivered two vans filled with items to help her start over. These grassroots efforts not only help others, they build camaraderie and compassion for others among our employees.

Step Four. The fourth step focuses on your team: Recognize the generational issues that motivate millennials. As our companies have grown, so have our teams. Many of our new hires are millennials who place tremendous value on community involvement. The millennial generation is moving up. The baby boomers are all about putting in hard hours and keeping their nose to the grindstone, but the millennials have a desire to be part of something greater than themselves. They like hands-on engagement.

At our firm, Tracy Wilson champions our community engagement. She actively seeks out worthy projects around the region to bring ideas to our team, from soup kitchens to sponsoring the Salvation Army Angel Tree.

One of our most ambitious community projects was also one of our most gratifying, from a team perspective. We participated in H.E.A.R.T.H. which stands for “Hearts Energized and Ready to Help” and is a program that the City of McKinney’s Community Services Department oversees. It focuses on matching McKinney-based companies and their volunteers with projects that impact neighborhoods. The H.E.A.R.T.H. house was a concerted effort with our vendors to rally around a project. It was a sticks-and-bricks project. For us, it was the largest single thing we did in rebuilding and furnishing an elderly couple’s home, and it was one of the most gratifying. That leads me to the last step.

Step Five. The final step is about balance: Find the right balance between being all about business and becoming involved and supporting the needs of your community.

As we continue to grow and mature as a company, we will look to creating our own foundation with annual giving goals. At present, our financial contributions vary according to our annual performance. We can do more over time, which helps us set up and execute and get others involved. Our volunteer efforts have become better organized, too, as our team becomes more fully engaged in the process of giving back through hands-on involvement.

In years past, when our team was smaller, we primarily gave money, but today we are more actively involved, and this balance seems to be favored by our younger professionals. All of the great companies we work for are doing something. I am not a giving expert, but this has been our journey. We want to emulate others, but we still have a long way to grow.

It’s up to you and your leadership team to decide how best to engage.

Charles R. Myers is CEO of MYCON General Contractors and co-chairs the Industrial and Office Local Product Council for the North Texas District Council of the ULI. He can be reached at [email protected].