Stop “Giving Back,” Start Investing

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Rwanda working with a medical team serving war-displaced families and at-risk-youth. The trip challenged and changed me in many ways – but perhaps the most significant change was how it shaped my thinking with respect to work.

As individuals, what distinguishes us from one another is our ability to think and do differently. And what influences our ability to think and do differently are experiences – the books we read, the people we meet, the places we go. As a company (made up of individuals), what became clear to me was that we could only ever be as unique as the individuals that unite us. We would only be as good as the sum of our parts.

Ecclesiastes says that there’s nothing new under the sun. That’s certainly true with respect to this concept; I’m not the first to think of it. But the idea was new to me and new to the partners of our relatively young company. It helped us realize that we needed to find ways to encourage our employees to have more experiences.

Investing vs. Giving Back

In the last ten years, corporate leaders across the nation have begun to implement and encourage volunteer programs as a way to improve their businesses. Whether they’re looking to decrease turnover rates or boost productivity, employers are increasingly recognizing that giving staff volunteer time off can have a positive impact. Pinkston loved this idea, but knew that if it was really going to have a meaningful impact, it needed to be positioned as more than just “giving back.”

Some might classify my trip working with a medical team in a third-world country as “giving back,” but for me, those words didn’t mean anything. Giving back insinuates that someone took something, that something is owed, that someone’s been wronged. In the context of business, “giving back” suggests that businesses are bullies that take things from society that don’t belong to them. I don’t believe that. In a free society, a business is a good thing that provides jobs and services and gives people choices.

Pinkston did not want a program that started with the presumption of guilt because giving from guilt, while perhaps effective, is neither strong nor lasting. Instead, we preferred the term “investing.”

The definition of investing is to use, give or devote something – time, talent, etc.—for a purpose or to achieve something. When investing, someone gives something of value in order to achieve something of value. It’s not just a one-way, transactional handoff; there’s an expectation that what is given will go on to produce something more. Investing is a way that we become engaged in a circular rather than a linear manner.

Giving the Time to Invest

With the expectation that by investing in our employees they could both invest in others and experience new people, places and things, in 2017 we officially launched a program for every full-time Pinkston employee that offered up to five days of paid time off per year to work with an approved 501(c)3 organization of their choice. This time is in addition to regular vacation time and comes with only one requirement: that participating employees share their experience on Pinkston blog.

Our hope is that by giving our staff this time, we will encourage activities that serve others. More, we hope that by investing in others, our employees’ view of the world will grow, that they will begin to ask questions about their unique purpose in this world, and as that purpose becomes more clear, they will discover a sense of creativity in how they might achieve it.

Sharing our Stories

As a public relations firm, we spend our days telling clients’ stories, helping the world understand who they are and what is important to them. But we rarely spend time telling our own stories. Through our upcoming blog series, the roles will be reversed as Pinkston employees share a piece of their own stories. We hope that you will use this space to reflect on your trips, to ask critical questions, to tell others what you’re learning and in the end, to make Pinkston a better place for all of us.

David Fouse is a partner and lead strategist at Pinkston.