How communicators are giving back during COVID-19
Here’s a look at how several organizations are giving back to their community, industry and workforce. Are you proud of your or your employer’s efforts? Let us know.
Wherever we go, whatever we do, it’s hard to escape the relentless news of layoffs, furloughs, record unemployment, store closures, sickness and fatalities related to COVID-19.
I reached out to all of you in the communications community for some good news to balance that deluge. I asked: How are you giving back during this crisis? The answers came through loud and clear, and in all sorts of creative and inspiring ways. As a reminder, here was the challenge.
As you can see, there is a lot to be proud of as we face this crisis, whose end we cannot currently predict.
I will continue to update this list, so please share what you’re doing to give back to employees and the community in the comments section below or directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan M. Baranczyk, corporate communications strategist at J.J. Keller, provider of safety and regulatory compliance solutions, shared the following efforts:
- Free services: The organization set up a dedicated web page, “Coronavirus Preparedness Resources,” full of free training, webcasts, articles and whitepapers for employers as they create plans and act on their plans during the pandemic. Since the page launched on Friday, March 20, it’s become the fast-growing page and seventh most-visited page on its website. While the free resources are certainly getting interest, a letter from President & CEO Rustin Keller has received the greatest number of clicks.
- Donating masks: As part of its longstanding pandemic crisis plan, it had 900 N95 masks and 16,000 surgical masks in storage. (In ordinary times, it runs two free on-site clinics as a wellness benefit, and the on-site health practitioners use the masks.) After moving about 92% of its workforce to remote work and closing the clinics, it donated all the masks to two local healthcare systems and the county health department. The comms team shared news of that donation via its intranet, which quickly became a source of pride for its workforce. The post received more likes and positive comments than any article in recent history.
Like so many other businesses, Woodloch, an all-inclusive family resort located in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, closed March 17 with hopes to reopen after shelter-in-place has been lifted. During this time, Erica Bloch, associate director of communications, detailed how the team is maintaining the Woodloch spirit for guests, staff and community through the following initiatives:
- Extra wages. Each of its hourly team members (about 950) received an extra week’s worth of wages to additionally compensate them during the first week of shutdown from March 16-22.
- Food drives. Two food drives have been held for all staffers—hourly and salaried workers. In total, 800 packages have been distributed to staff members another 300 donated to local food shelters. The first package included an assortment of items such as pasta, rice, milk, eggs, fresh greens, sausage and cheese sticks. Here’s what the second food drive, held April 10, included:
- Mask donation: Woodloch donated 80 N95 respirator masks to the local community hospital, Wayne Memorial, who was extremely grateful.
- It launched Woodloch at Home, new online programming that gives users the chance to join in Woodloch’s signature activities and games remotely through the resort’s website and social media channels. The response, Bloch reports, has been “overwhelming.” It’s seen more than 11.5k views to its page, or about one-third of its total traffic.
- Free meals to frontline workers. Woodloch’s bakery is currently putting together care packages for hospital staff, local urgent care and EMS workers to be delivered on Friday, April 17. Woodloch also owns and operates a stand-alone restaurant, The Boat House, which has been providing free weekly meals to Pennsylvania state police officers.
In response to the turbulent news cycle and the exasperated stresses of being a small business owner during this crisis, Alexis Walsko, CEO of digital PR agency Lola Red PR, started the Positivity Pause, a daily 15-minute Zoom call to recognize the good that is around us.
“There are miracles happening all around us and this is the time to find them and celebrate them,” she said.
She begins with a short note on what her positivity comes from that day, then opens it up to Lola Red employees and guests to share “short and sweet tidbits of hope that aim to inspire and start your day off right.” After the call, she sends out links to things people mentioned for everyone to watch after or read more information. (For instance, this elephant video inspired her from The Dodo.)
Held weekdays at 10 a.m. Central time, the Positivity Pause is open to all—Lola Red employees, clients (past and present), industry friends, community members, local media and even celebrity guests (Frank Ragnow of the Detroit Lions joined.)
Here is the information: Link, Meeting ID: 298 581 105, Password: 344528.
Amanda J. Ponzar, chief communications & strategy officer at Community Health Charities (CHC), detailed how it’s giving back to employees and its nonprofit partners.
- Flexible schedules. To help ease the burden of working from home, employees can use their sick leave during this crisis for any reason, take office equipment home, and create a flexible schedule to teach their children, care for family members, or whatever they need. “Employees can even go negative on their sick leave banks – basically whatever it takes to get through this,” Ponzar says.
- Supporting local nonprofits. In March, CHC partnered with Pie Five Pizza to support the community with a cause marketing partnership. Each month, CHC will promote a different nonprofit partner, who will receive 15% of sales from three Oklahoma-based Pie Fie Pizza locations.
Created a “How to Engage during Covid-19” one-pager. This downloable PDF is for companies looking for resources and ways to help. It includes:
- Health resources for the at-risk population
- Virtual volunteering—a “Volunteer on the Spot” virtual volunteering guide, plus online site to help engage employees
- “Color for a cause” de-stress art contest for charity. This was an idea from a CHC employee. “We’re empowering staff right now to be creative and innovative during this time,” Ponzar says. “It keeps morale up and is fun for the staff, and gives us more to share with partners.”
- Ideas to keep children occupied.
- Helping its nonprofit partners. CHC is raising awareness with funders and others to get support for nonprofits. It also hosted a Q&A webinar on how nonprofits can get the most out of the new stimulus bill, which attracted 130 registrants.
- Recognizing organizations who are giving back on its website and social media.
KQ Communications, in partnership with LAB Digital Creative, launched the Coronavirus Help Hub to offer a comprehensive list of services for those affected by the virus, said Alisha Tillery, director of the agency’s Memphis office. The PR agency is encouraging businesses and organizations providing services to sign up and share. The Hub includes:
- Tips and suggestions for ways churches, nonprofits and businesses can support the community.
- Links to nearly 30 resources offering financial, food, social and educational outreach to those impacted by the virus.
- An opportunity for organizations, businesses, churches and nonprofits to share how they’re supporting the community.
Stephanie Dorn, director of internal communications at Cognizant, and Communications Leadership Council member shared:
- Monetary donations. Cognizant has donated $10 million to support communities impacted by COVID-19.
- Employee support. For parents homeschooling their kids, Cognizant hosted an internal webinar for employees on homeschooling while working. It also pays $10 a month for its employees in India so they can work from home. And, it instituted a 25% increase in base pay for employees in India and the Philippines for associate level and below titled employees.
Kathy Wholley, senior director of communication at Domtar, shared some of the community investment the organization is taking on in response to the pandemic.
- Diaper donation. Together with its distribution partner, Good 360, Domtar has distributed more than 700,000 diapers to hard hit areas and the communities where it operates through its Comfort and Care program, which donates absorbent hygiene products to families facing poverty or those who are recovering from natural disasters.
- Employee volunteerism. Some of its manufacturing facilities are taking action in their communities. For example, employees from its Espanola mill put together care packages for seniors who are currently quarantined. They “visited” them through the glass.
- Book donation. Every year it purchases books from First Book to share during reading events at local elementary schools, which have now been cancelled. It redeployed nearly 7,000 books to kids who are now staying at home to keep them reading.
Costal Mississippi CEO Milton Segarra shared the following:
Coastal Mississippi has created a toolkit for its partners to help navigate the crisis. It also created locally-themed social distancing cards and a Bingo card to show how partners and the community can support each other safely as well as tips for staying healthy. It posted a list of restaurants that are operating drive-through and carry-out options to encourage the support of local businesses.
To keep the destination top of mind, the team has created videos (1 and 2), a guide to virtually experiencing the destination and a way to experience Coastal Mississippi through binge watching. This is available not only to visitors but for partners to share and be featured in. All of this is designed to support travel when it is safe and boost the awareness of the destination and its partners.
Our own Juston Teach, director of virtual events at Ragan, took it upon himself to put his 3D printer to good use by printing surgical mask extenders for frontline medical professionals.
“In the wake of N95 mask shortages, doctors and nurses are forced to wear surgical masks which become increasingly more uncomfortable as the day progresses,” he said. “With COVID-19 upending our lives, these medical professionals should be focused on treating patients, not uncomfortable equipment.”
The extenders, made from Polyactic Acid Plastic (PLA), allow for surgical masks to rest on the extender and not on the ears, making them more comfortable for the person wearing them.
Using his Creality Ender-3 Pro 3D printer, Teach prints up to 36 mask extenders a day, which will be donated to Chicago and Indiana-based hospitals. “I have always believed that you should leave the world better than what you found it and hopefully printing these mask extenders will help me do just that.”