Each issue of Advantage features an “Impact Player” from the United Way of Northeast Florida, as a means to highlight the contributions that local volunteers make to our community.
Florida Public Utilities runs a best practices United Way campaign that includes meetings with representatives of local agencies, visits by program participants, corporate incentives and leadership involvement.
The Fernandina Beach division won the United Way of Northeast Florida’s Small Business Company of the Year award for its 2013 campaign, in which employee giving increased by 300 percent from 2012 as employee participation increased to 96 percent from 30 percent. The 2013 campaign was also the fifth largest of any company in Nassau County in terms of total giving.
Electric Operations Manager Bill Grant, this month’s Impact Player, guides the employees who lead the company’s campaign, providing suggestions, support and leadership by example.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE UNITED WAY?
I first got involved when I worked with another company. But I have been a long-time fan of the United Way and what they do for the community. I joined my present company in 2008 and got involved in the campaign a couple of years ago. We have two people who run the campaign. I speak to groups about how important it is, and we bring in people who have benefited from United Way programs as guest speakers.
HOW HAVE YOU SINCE HELPED?
I help our guys with ideas and come up with some things to do, like take a bucket of ice water for the campaign to get people laughing. I try to provide positive encouragement and reinforcement. It’s not fair to tell somebody they need to do this. It has to come from them.
We had one guy who always kept his arms folded. He didn’t want to participate. But we had a speaker come in who resonated with him. Not only did he then contribute, he contributed in a big way.
Maybe it’s leading by example. I tell my story of how the United Way helped me as a kid in scouts. It’s keeping the message positive about what they do for our community. We’re pretty small here. You don’t have to reach far to find someone who has been helped by some United Way agency along the way.
WHAT PROGRAM(S) ARE YOU MOST INVOLVED IN?
People can designate to a specific organization but most people don’t. They give to the general fund and let the money go where it needs to go.
We had a group last year come in that spoke about programs for seniors, like Meals on Wheels. That struck a chord for some people. This year was speakers about children who didn’t have the resources to go to a quality preschool program. An agency helped them enroll in a program to help maintain their kids’ ability to get a good education.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE PEOPLE WITH WHOM YOU CONNECTED?
I meet with different community leaders that I probably wouldn’t have the chance to meet if it weren’t for United Way because we don’t deal with them on a day-to-day basis. It’s a good way to meet other community leaders who are interested in giving back to their community.
HOW DOES UNITED WAY’S WORK MAKE OUR COMMUNITY MORE ATTRACTIVE TO BUSINESSES INTERESTED IN STARTING HERE?
We’re a community interested in taking care of its people. That makes it an attractive place. There’s an agency willing to help any company’s employees and they’re going to look at those kinds of things. We’re a service oriented community.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER SMALL-BUSINESS LEADERS INTERESTED IN ENGAGING WITH THE UNITED WAY?
Your employees are going to pay attention to and take the lead from what you do. It’s one of those fundamental things of leading by example. They don’t want to know how much you give or what charities you support, they just want to know that you do.
It’s also important to let people know that it’s important for the community. This is the only charity that our company supports on a dollar-for-dollar match. If the company believes that it it is that important to the community that they are willing to match your dollar with our dollar it speaks for itself.
I just stand up in front of the group and do the rah-rah. They do the work. It’s important and it’s something we should all do.
I reach out to people not participating, hoping to get them to help. If they’re not helping because they’re not convinced or not convicted because they don’t know what services are out there, we’re going to show them what is out there. If they can see that it could possibly help them someday, or somebody they know or love or somebody they’re interacting with in the community, it makes a personal connection. That helps.