Days of service often involve well-intentioned volunteers quickly descending on a community, fixing a problem someone else identified and leaving as quickly as they came. Part of reframing the approach is asking, “Are we centering on the people who live in those communities? Are we listening to and learning from the experiences of those most closely affected?”

Recently, I spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Summit with Scott Adams, executive vice president and chief transformation and strategy officer at Protective Life. The company had won the naming rights to the new University of Alabama at Birmingham stadium to be built downtown, and community members in the surrounding neighborhoods were not excited about all the money being funneled into the new stadium. Community leadership had historically not prioritized investing in their neighborhoods but were now investing in the stadium.

The team from Protective Life met with community members one-on-one and in groups and what they heard was this: No one listens to our real needs. We have multiple homes that are condemned because we need roofs. We don’t need new sidewalks and restaurants we can’t afford. What we really need is someone who will advocate for us because we’re not at the tables where you sit.

For companies and nonprofits planning days of service, here are a few questions I encourage you to ask yourselves before planning:

  1. Who is at the table from the community?
  2. How are we listening and learning by giving people the opportunity to voice their own challenges and be part of the solution?
  3. How will this project create equity for this community? How can we use this as a starting point for a long-term community investment?
  4. How are we preparing our employees to show up? Will employees have a mindset of listening and learning when they interact with community members?
  5. Can this deepen engagement and increase empathy between our employees and the community?

Read the full article about equity in service days by Jennifer Sirangelo at Forbes.