This past Summer, I was at dinner with a group of people, and one person at the table looked at me and said, “When was the last time that you felt happy? Not general happiness but real, tangible joy.” I sat there a bit stunned by such a personal question, but two things immediately popped into my mind. The first memory was from my childhood when my neighborhood friends and I played outside during a downpour. Random, I know. The second thing was a far leap from childhood, and one centered around an event I participated in via a social responsibility initiative at a former employer. It was at the end of a 14-day trip through Asia and I was craving chicken fingers and honey mustard like you wouldn’t believe! At the end of the trip, our team in China had organized an event to donate new desks to a school in a small Chinese village outside of Shanghai. Little did I know that this would turn out to be one of the most rewarding and emotional days of my career.

When we arrived at the school, my colleagues and I walked down the long school hallway. I quickly noticed the faint sound of clapping and singing. As we got closer to the classroom, the clapping and singing became louder and louder. In my mind I thought, “Is this clapping for us?” It was. As we entered the classroom, we were greeted by songs and a well-planned program to thank us for our generosity. As I sat there, I thought “How did I get here? I am a kid from Arkansas. Now, here I am in China about to speak to a room full of Chinese students. What in the world do I say in this moment?” It was emotionally overwhelming, but I knew that what I would say would focus on the power of education. Education changed my life. While I was never the smartest person in the room, I worked hard for the things that I accomplished. I had to open my own doors and I knew that most, if not all, of the students in this classroom would have to do the same. And now, because of my education, I was working for a company that allowed me to use that hard work to help others.

After we presented the school with our donation and I talked to the class about working hard to reach their goals, we walked outside into an open area that was clearly for the kids to play during breaks. About two minutes after we made it outside, the bell rang. Next thing I knew, our group was surrounded by hundreds of kids, eager to take our picture and even get our autographs. I felt like a grey-haired Justin Bieber! As we took pictures and played with the kids, it was honestly one of the few times in my life that I have felt tangible joy. The energy and excitement from the kids could be felt in the air. Still to this day, I remember everything about that experience. I remember every co-worker who was there. I remember the little girl who read a speech before we presented the donation. I remember the kids playing tug of war with us. It is such a clear and meaningful memory, and one I have because of an employer who cared about bettering the world.

The events that happened that day affected me both personally and professionally. I felt more connected to my company, my co-workers, and my belief that education can change lives. I believed that we were able to impact the lives of those students and better their education. It was the key moment that connected me to the power of social good in an organization.

That question at dinner last year was one of the catalysts for my decision to create Lucky Forks. I wanted to help other companies with a desire to do more, give back and stand for a higher purpose in their market. I wanted companies to see how something like my experience could impact the culture of their organization and create more loyal employees. I wanted to help those employees feel more connected to their organization and colleagues. And finally, I wanted to create an organization that had the potential to impact the world in a positive way.

Since the launch of Lucky Forks, the one common theme that I am hearing in my discussions with peers is that no one is really thinking about their “why.” Why am I thinking about implementing a social responsibility program for my company? Why will my employees care? Why is this the non-profit that will generate the most employee engagement? Why is this the program that best aligns with my company’s values?

These are all foundational questions that you must answer in building a social responsibility program for your organization or everything else will fall apart. Don’t get me wrong, these things can be hard to define. However, you must remember social impact behavior must start with an awareness of who you are as an organization and what you believe in. Whatever social impact program you implement must align with your culture and core values as an organization. If it doesn’t, the program will fail.

The first step in the Lucky Forks process is defining the “why.” Why is my experience in China such a valued memory? Because I believe that education has the power to change lives, and a lot of my co-workers at that experience felt the same way. We connected with the “why” of that day. Once everyone in your organization defines a purpose, then you are able to define how these programs will impact your goals. In our process, we focus on three areas: Social, Employee and Business Impact. For example, employees will be motivated to participate for various reasons. Some of the motivators could be the following:

·     Socially-motivated – Driven to serve to get to know their team, manager, business, and/or community better.

·     Passion-motivated – Driven to serve because they care deeply about the cause in which they are participating.

·     Career-motivated – Driven to serve because it gives them the opportunity to stretch and strengthen their skill-sets, which will help them in future career advancement.

While this is just one small example of the Lucky Forks’ process, it is one that is vital to pulling off a successful social responsibility strategy.

Bottom line is this – a social responsibility plan is more than a “check the box.” It is a necessary program for organizations looking to better connect with current employees, recruit their future workforce, and differentiate their purpose in the market. It is a process that takes a lot of necessary planning and participation from all levels. As you consider this rewarding journey, remember the first step is to know who you are, what your employees care about, and WHY you are doing it.