If there’s one thing I’ve learned covering this industry for nearly a quarter century, it’s that truckers get involved in far more philanthropic activities than many think.
There are, of course, very “public” charity efforts by truckers that make a pretty big statement – the annual Make-A-Wish convoy being one of them.
But truckers and other industry participants, such as dealers, do lots of other “good works” on a continual basis that rarely gets media coverage like the annual Make-A-Wish convoy, too – often stepping in to save lives in all manner of bad situations, as the great Goodyear Highway Heroes program highlights.
Of course, not every truck driver is in the right place at the right time to render aid in such scenarios – and frankly most drivers I’ve talked to who’ve been involved in such crisis events would gladly trade away any and all personal glory they gained from such events if they could prevent them from ever happening in the first place.
That most truckers seek to help out where they can is no surprise to me for another reason: Americans as a group provide significant support to a wide range of charitable endeavors.
For example, just peruse Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016, which noted that Americans gave an estimated $390.05 billion to charities in 2016, with charitable giving from individuals, foundations and corporations all increasing last year.
“This report tells us that Americans remained generous in 2016, despite it being a year punctuated by economic and political uncertainty,” noted Aggie Sweeney, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation, within that report. “We saw growth in every major sector, indicating the resilience of philanthropy and diverse motivations of donors.”
The rise in total giving last year was spurred largely individuals, who boosted their annual donations by nearly 4% in 2016.
“Individual giving continued its remarkable role in American philanthropy in a year that included a turbulent election season that reflected a globally resurgent populism,” added Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (they compile this report every year).
“In this context, the absence of a dramatic change in giving is perhaps remarkable, but it also demonstrates the need for us to better understand the multitude of individual and collective decisions that comprise our record of national giving,” Pasic said.
“Trucks deliver more than just the freight that our communities need,” he said. “They deliver money and volunteer efforts for charities and organizations in their communities.”
Yet tapping into that “national giving” drive, for lack of a better term, can also help trucking companies on the employee recruitment and retention front, argues Jane Jazrawy, chief executive officer at CarriersEdge.
The opportunity to participate in those programs is especially powerful with the Millennial generation, which ranks social responsibility high on the list of criteria for evaluating a potential employer, she noted.
“They want to work for a company that gives back, and they want to be a part of it,” Jazrawy said. “Trucking companies are in a unique position to make meaningful contributions to charitable and community events and organizations [as] trucks can easily move goods from place to place. Even one donated truck and driver can make a large difference.”
Trucking companies also aren’t limited to one cause. “The truck and driver can be used for as many different events as the company can handle,” she pointed out.
But what trucking companies aren’t as good at is letting the world know how much they do and how much they’re capable of, Jazrawy emphasized.
“Many companies have embraced the idea of philanthropy and volunteering, and they make sure those efforts are front and center in their branding,” she explained. “Trucking is much more subtle. Trucking companies tend not to publicize their community efforts and participation in larger programs. This may be hurting the effort to attract drivers and other staff to the industry who don’t realize the opportunities that it can provide.”
In the area of social responsibility, trucking doesn't give itself enough credit, she added. Celebrating the causes and charitable events in which a company participates will help increase participation within the company as well as retention of drivers, Jazrawy believes.
Even small companies can benefit from engagement in what she calls corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. They can participate in local activities like blood drives, Toys for Tots, Christmas parades and fundraising events like a chili cook-off.
A trucking firm “doesn't need to immediately jump to a national program and devote large amounts of time and money,” she said. “Many companies start working with a particular cause in response to a driver or staff member's request and it grows from there.”
But the opportunities are many: truck convoys to promote Special Olympics and breast-cancer research; trailer wraps; moving trailers that house travelling exhibits such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's “The Wall that Heals;” Truckers Against Trafficking's “Freedom Drivers Project”; and the Wreaths Across America program, in which volunteer drivers deliver wreaths to be placed on the graves of veterans at Arlington National and other cemeteries throughout the country.
Participating in CSR projects builds stronger connections not only within the company but also with the customers and communities trucking companies serve, Jazrawy said. “Letting the world know what your company does will spread the word, not only about the cause being supported, but also about how the industry gives back.”
But how should fleet go about established a CSR program to support chartable efforts on a structured, ongoing basis while controlling the impact on daily operations? On top of that, how can motor carriers effectively tie such programs into their recruiting and retention efforts?
Luckily, Jazrawy has some advice:
- Consider the downtime and be flexible: When drivers make trips for a charitable or community cause, the downtime may be more than just travelling to the event and then participating. You may not be able to find a backhaul, especially for larger events where a lot of coordination between different companies is required (such as Wreaths Across America). If you cannot afford the downtime, stick to local events.
- Create a code of conduct: Think about creating a code of conduct for anyone representing your company, which can include appropriate clothing, grooming and behavior. Provide company shirts to drivers who are participating in an event. Company clothing will promote both the company and the cause. When participating in a public activity such as a convoy, drivers and other staff are not only representatives of a particular company, but of the entire trucking industry. Punctuality, patience and responsibility are key to showing the public what trucking is all about.
- Selecting the right drivers: When you wrap a trailer in a design supporting a charity or special event, you need to determine the selection criteria for the driver who will pull it. When the wrap has a military theme, you might want to restrict it to veterans or other drivers who have a special relationship with the military (e.g., a son or daughter). For some companies, hauling a special trailer is part of the reward for being driver of the year or reaching a million mile milestone. Also determine how long the period will be that the driver can haul a special trailer.
- Don’t forget about background checks: When a driver will be participating in an event that includes children or travel into restricted or high security areas, background checks or additional security clearances may be required.
- Involving your owner operators: Be sure to support any owner-operator fundraising efforts if they want to be a part of a convoy or other special event. They need to be considered for such events alongside your company drivers.
- Celebrate the experience: Make sure that the entire company understands the event and is invited to participate. Promote the effort through social media, use video to interview participants before the event, get video of the event and post regularly while the event is happening. Get local media involved – local newspapers and TV stations are always looking for content. When your drivers are participating further away, contact the local media in that area as well.
- Connect your company directly to the effort: Use your website and social media to tell the public about what your company is involved in. Let your potential employees know what organizations you support and why. Use pictures and testimonials from drivers who are passionate about what they are doing.
Good advice for truckers looking to ramp up their charitable activity in the New Year.