As we observe National Volunteer Week this week, it's a good time to remember just how big volunteerism is in Minnesota.
As a state, we're currently No. 2 in per capita volunteerism, second behind Utah. And for cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul is No. 1. We've held that distinction regularly. It's who we are.
Minnesota volunteers contributed $3.3 billion worth of time and talent to our communities in 2015. From feeding the hungry to tutoring children in need, volunteers take on the crucial personal commitment to make a difference. Volunteers are at the forefront working to make change as new community needs evolve.
When Karen refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) became the largest growing immigrant population in St. Paul, there weren't culturally relevant programs in place to help them acclimate.
In 2003, six volunteer Karen leaders and a core group of community volunteers stepped in to establish a volunteer-led organization to support the newcomers. In 2008, with needs increasing, these volunteers in St. Paul and neighboring communities formed the first Karen-led social service nonprofit in the United States.
In 2017, the Karen Organization of Minnesota employs 25 people and serves more than 1,500 refugees from Myanmar each year. The very fabric of our community is shaped by people volunteering.
Why is volunteerism important? Yes, it's nice to do, it's the right thing to do, but in fact for business it's becoming a must-do. Employees care. They want to work for a business that they can feel proud of. And it's good for business.
The triple bottom line is an accounting practice that looks at results from the wider perspective of social, environmental and financial measures — often described as people, profit and planet.
Companies that offer paid time off for volunteering, an increasingly common employee benefit, know that a small investment pays dividends of employee engagement, enhanced ease of recruitment and retention, and the chance to connect with, and make a difference in, their community.
The international nonprofit Points of Light has adopted Service Unites for its 2017 theme, and Twin Cities corporate volunteerism leaders recently had the chance to learn firsthand about this initiative and how it integrates with our local Twin Cities corporate theme of volunteerism as a tool toward diversity, equity and inclusion.
Volunteerism breaks down barriers and brings people together. Teams who volunteer together become more cohesive. Individuals on both sides of the volunteer equation get to know each other better.
The lessons are everywhere, from the food shelf teaching donors what vegetables are culturally most valued by local community members to a reading tutor hearing from a child that he is hungry. Volunteer service connects us to each other. As volunteers are educated, we are changed.
As a society we are learning that to solve our most intractable, difficult, "wicked" problems we need to work together across public, private and nonprofit sectors. Workplace volunteerism provides a natural bridge to collaborate across sectors on challenges that are difficult to solve alone.
When a struggling, below-grade-level reader benefits because their public school partners with a literacy nonprofit, which then brings in a corporate volunteer trained to make a difference, the triple win goes beyond any individual sector. The community, the volunteer and the organizations all benefit.
There is a ripple effect, a synergy — to working together. Our Minnesota legacy of corporate volunteerism provides an example and the inspiration for all the good we can do when business makes the community a priority. The powerful cross-pollination of ideas, resources and social and professional networks that occurs through volunteerism is key to innovation and impact.
If you're looking for the closest thing I've seen to a magic bullet, it's workplace volunteerism. It's a game changer.
Susan T. Schuster is 2017 president of the Corporate Volunteerism Council-Twin Cities and creator of the Twin Cities Corporate Giving Garden Network, @MNGivingGardens.