‘Loaning’ Employees Builds Community

Danielle Ruffo, pictured (right) of Savings Bank of Walpole participated as a Monadnock United Way loaned employee during the 2017/2018 campaign season. Mark Bodin (left), president of the Savings Bank of Walpole, worked with Ruffo on professional development throughout her volunteer experience. She is now the bank's new community engagement coordinator.

If your business could “loan” out one or two employees to do good work in the community, and, as a bonus, they would be trained with networking, interpersonal and professional skills — would you do it?

Each year, Monadnock United Way seeks out companies willing to “loan” an employee (or two) to engage in the nonprofit’s Loaned Employee Program to help run fundraising campaigns in local workplaces between August and December. These workplace campaigns are critical in raising thousands of dollars to help agencies in the Monadnock Region fight child neglect and abuse, inadequate education and financial instability in the region. It not only helps the agency, but local businesses benefit too.

“(The Loaned Employee Program is) not only really good for us at the Monadnock United Way in that it helps with our staff capacity … but it also is a really good way to bolster the participants’ professional skills,” says Kate Cote, MUW’s volunteer engagement specialist, who started with MUW as a loaned employee herself.

For more than 65 years, MUW has been working to identify high priority needs within the Monadnock Region and find solutions to improve people’s lives. To address the problems our communities face, MUW raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to invest in evidence-based solutions. Campaigns run by local workplaces bring in a significant amount of MUW’s overall funds for the year.

LOANED EMPLOYEES

HELP RAISE MONEY

Cote explains that to help facilitate those campaigns, “we cultivate the loaned employee volunteers from our local business partners.”

In late spring and early summer, she reaches out to nearby businesses of all shapes and sizes to discuss participation.

“It can be a company from five employees to 5,000,” she says.

The final pool of loaned employees typically comes from a mix of businesses that are new to the idea and others that have participated in the past.

“Some are just superstars about supplying loaned employees to us year after year,” Cote notes.

Though there might be challenges that come with taking an employee off their work station and “loaning” out their time, the immense benefits prove worth it all around. For the loaned employees themselves, MUW’s program offers incredible skill-building opportunities, including time management, project management, public speaking, and more.

“There’s just so much they can take away from it,” Cote says.

The result is often a transformative effect on the employee’s role back at the office.

“Folks feel themselves growing, and their employers recognize that they come back more confident and more empowered to do their jobs,” Cote says.

LOANED EMPLOYEE ROLE

LEADS TO NEW POSITION

For instance, Danielle Ruffo of Savings Bank of Walpole participated as a loaned employee during the 2017/2018 campaign season, and the outcomes were remarkable due to her strong engagement as a volunteer. 

“She really took it to the next level with a whole professional development plan,” Cote says.

Savings Bank of Walpole has participated in the loaned employee program for several years, and when Ruffo’s boss approached her to see if she might be interested in volunteering, she gave a definitive “yes.”

“I looked at it as a great opportunity to learn about our local nonprofit organizations and also as a way to network with our community — not only from a business perspective but also personally,” Ruffo explains.

Mark Bodin who is now president of Savings Bank of Walpole, was head of Ruffo’s department at the time, and he worked with her on professional development throughout the experience. She had the opportunity to reflect during their discussions, in a written piece she composed for work, and through a presentation she gave to the bank’s leadership team.

Not long after, the bank put into action a longstanding plan to create a brand-new community engagement coordinator position. “Having just had the experience with (Monadnock United Way) and working so closely with the community, I knew this position was something I wanted to pursue,” Ruffo says.

She has now been in the new role since last fall.

“I work directly with nonprofits to create volunteer opportunities for our staff, match our staff to board involvement directly related to their interest, and also represent the bank at community events,” she says.

While she never expected to find such a fit while working for a bank, she isn’t surprised since Savings Bank of Walpole is so deeply rooted in the local community. And she considers the opportunity a direct result of her experience with MUW.

Her advice to potential MUW loan employees is to “take this opportunity, but don’t just take it for the task that it is. Take it a step further and realize what you can do personally for your community.”

LOANED EMPLOYEE TRAINING

For loaned employees who are given a chance to participate, their learning goes far beyond the hands-on experience gained once they are underway helping with MUW’s fundraising.

Participation time in the MUW’s Loaned Employee Program varies by workload, but Cote strives to divvy up assignments equitably. It’s not just about the number of accounts a loaned employee handles but also the level of involvement each case demands.

On average, participants spend a total of about 14-20 hours assisting with local workplace campaigns. That’s in addition to a mandatory 27 hours of intensive training during which the loaned employee gains a full understanding of MUW’s history, mission and strategic direction and develops essential skills for interacting with the community and speaking publicly.

Loaned employees review the key elements that make a fundraising campaign successful and take a deeper look at why the money raised is so critical to the powerful work MUW does each day.

For instance, one aspect of the training is a poverty simulator, during which everyone in the room receives a specific number of tokens and a simulated budget to support their family. The budget includes items such as health insurance, food, shelter and gas. Then, something catastrophic happens, and participants have to figure out how to make the situation work.

“Folks who live at or near the poverty level really just struggle to make everyday decisions,” Cote says.

The simulator brings that reality to the forefront and leads to a lot of meaningful conversation.

“With that knowledge and training, they are then able to go out into the community and help some of our local businesses run their workplace campaigns,” Cote explains.

During the last campaign season, about 66 local companies participated, and their accounts were divided up among eight loaned employees. For some companies, annual fundraising for MUW is old hat. They know what they’re doing and just need a liaison to coordinate the paperwork.

Other businesses new to the process or tackling it from a new angle may request more involvement from their assigned loaned employee, such as help with booking speakers, planning promotional events, or running raffles.

“We had one company last year that had a whole carnival,” Cote describes.

Complete with a dunk tank and lively barbecue, the fun event was leveraged to bring in the most funds possible.

“The more loaned employees that we cultivate, the more attention they can give to each one of the campaigns,” Cote says.

In turn, the loaned employee program truly helps participants build a strong network of connections throughout the region, from learning about MUW’s partner agencies to familiarizing themselves with the work happening at other local businesses.

“It provides the employees with a broader background of what’s going on in the community and a greater understanding of the needs of the Monadnock Region,” Cote says.

And that makes them strong advocates going forward.

“I was exposed to a number of wonderful organizations that I would have never known about, but most importantly I learned how much need there was in our community and how I could help,” Ruffo says. 

During her tenure, weekly loaned employee check-in meetings were held at various nonprofit organizations, including The Keene Community Kitchen, Rise for Baby & Family, Southwestern Community Services and The River Center.

She and her fellow MUW loaned employees received tours, learned about each organization, and gained a genuine understanding of the role each one plays in lifting the community up.

“I met so many wonderful community members. I became very close with the staff at MUW and developed great working relationships, which have continued,” Ruffo says.

“The program is so eye-opening that the (loaned employees) just become a huge mouthpiece for us, and they’re able to go back and promote awareness within their organization,” Cote says. T

Caroline Tremblay writes from Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.