We picked up the brand new bicycle from my boss, Lewis’s, home on a lovely Saturday in December 1994. He was smiling as he loaded it into the back of my car—who doesn’t love the thought of giving a little kid a bike? My colleagues at Ernst & Young had connected with a local non-profit and had purchased gifts from a family’s wish list. The family we supported included a mom and her three kids, and we gratefully received a photo from the family after they opened presents on Christmas morning. The young girl who received the bike was simply beaming.
Our EY team was brought together in the gathering of the gifts and tighter still in the happy reflection of our effort as we enjoyed the photo.
We all have song lyrics, movie segments, book passages, and quotes that inspire us and bolster us. During the mid-to-late 1990s, I had the good fortune to walk past a store in Atlanta’s Virginia Highlands area, 20thCentury Antiques, that featured an inscription above the door. Attributed to John Wesley, it read:
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.
During this same time, Peachtree Road United Methodist Church was my church, and the same passage was frequently included in the Sunday Church bulletin. I cut it out, and while torn and tattered, the fragment remains in my wallet today.
No quote or lyric has ever meant more to me in my life.
Twenty years ago, it motivated me to find ways to connect to my new city and to remember that I had agency in creating my experience. Today, it drives me to look for the next opportunity and reminds me that as long as I can do something, I should do it. John Wesley delivered, he delivers, the ultimate call to action.
From sponsoring a family during the holidays to pitching in and refurbishing a school on Hands on Atlanta Days, we wanted people to feel great about being part of our EY consulting practice, and we wanted our colleagues to connect with our city. While higher employee engagement and improved employee retention were business outcomes, it was much more than that. We were building a culture of connection.
Nearly two decades later, my team at United Way of Miami-Dade worked with Zubi Advertising on a campaign to build brand awareness in our local Miami market. With three impact areas (education, financial stability, and health), The Center for Excellence in Early Education, The Center for Financial Stability, and nearly 60 agency partners, getting to a crisp marketing message was a challenge. So, we stopped thinking about who we were and what we did and we focused on what our volunteers did and how their work with us affected them. We focused on the connection they had with us. We focused on the connections that their engagement with us helped them to create.
We invited our community members to lend a hand, to raise a voice, and to make a gift. What each of these actions had in common was the outcome—they would change a life. What each of these actions had in common was agency—they could change a life. Lending a hand in service changes a life. Raising a voice in advocacy changes a life. Making a gift from a place of generosity changes a life. All three actions change the life of the recipient—but more importantly, these actions change the life of the giver. It’s more than a perceived halo effect. It’s more than the share-ability of any of these actions on a social media channel. We cannot help but be changed by changing another life. We cannot help but be changed by making the connections that arise from those choices.
Looking back on my first forays into community building in Atlanta’s Ernst & Young office, it was certainly about helping the beneficiary families and schools. But, it was more about connecting colleagues to a greater good and helping them develop connections to each other. It was my way of responding to John Wesley’s call to action. It was about making work feel more like family. It was about shared purpose. It was about bringing heart to the office. And, it all started with a bike.