“Understanding what really matters” to Great Southern Bank means creating a company-wide initiative to give back to the community.
Employees at Great Southern Bank know that the community is indispensable to their success, so they’ve made it a priority as an organization to improve that community. For more than a decade, a corporate philanthropic program called Community Matters has been a crucial part of the bank’s operations. Through development loans, financial grants, investments and sponsorships, employees take an active role in making Springfield and surrounding cities better places to live.
At the heart of the Community Matters program is a philosophy of volunteering that drives associates from all levels to help local nonprofits. “I think that it really started with my parents,” says Julie Brown, daughter of Bill Turner, who joined Great Southern in 1974 and positioned the bank for significant growth and its status as a publicly traded company. “They believe that a company is only as strong as the community in which it’s situated. The community has enriched our lives, so it’s important for our employees and our family to give back.”
Employees choose from a suggested list of organizations in need of volunteers. They are awarded volunteer hours, which range from 8 hours to 32 hours per year depending on job classification, and are free to leave work during the day to serve as long as their time away is approved. Sometimes, whole departments go together. The paid time off is just a bonus that the company is willing to offer because of its return on investment.
“You can’t really place a dollar number on it, but I think it does come back to your business in the good you’re creating,” says Kelly Polonus, Great Southern’s marketing and communications director. “In a bank especially, the more we’re out trying to make the community better, the more that helps us. It’s a cycle.”
Getting employees on board with the initiative was never hard, says Gwen Hager, community relations manager with Great Southern. In her 16 years on staff, she’s seen an increase in the number of nonprofits that receive volunteer assistance from Great Southern, but the mission of Ozarks Food Harvest to provide food for the hungry continues to resonate with many. Since the Community Matters program started in 2003, Great Southern employees have logged 115 visits to the facility for a total of 348 hours volunteered. “It just makes you feel good to be giving back, and what I like about Ozarks Food Harvest is they’re very good at training people, and they’re working right there alongside you,” Hager says.
For other businesses interested in implementing a volunteer program, Polonus advises cooperating with smaller organizations at first and making sure the chosen organization has a stable structure. “Get involved with an organization that knows how to utilize volunteers, so you can make sure time spent out there is time well spent,” she says. “That just makes it more satisfying and a win-win.”