WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — When BB&T CEO Kelly King met last spring with employees throughout regions the bank serves, he was struck by their stories about the challenges the recession was giving to their friends and neighbors.
So he started thinking about what the company could do as an organization to address the concerns of employees and their communities.
The result was BB&T’s “Lighthouse Project,” an effort that was designed “to give our people the opportunity to get involved in a hands-on way to meeting the needs of the community,” King says. “I thought if we could get our people involved in the community in helping others, it would not only help others but would help our employees feel better.”
The initiative, marking the first time BB&T had created a company-wide structure to make it easy for employees to get involved in the community, invited employees to form teams of at least 10 members.
Each team would select a community project to support with money and volunteering, and the company would give each team member $100 to donate to the cause they were supporting.
“We encouraged them to get together in groups of 10 or more so it would be a meaningful amount of money,” King says. “We gave them full latitude in terms of what they did and which organization they helped.”
And the teams could “not just write a check,” he says. “They had to do hands-on activity.”
BB&T encouraged employees to volunteer on paid company time, King says.
To form teams of at least 10 members, employees from smaller branches or offices sometimes teamed up.
Through the summer and fall, over 20,000 BB&T employees volunteered nearly 53,000 volunteer hours on about 1,000 projects in 25 states that affected over 1.6 million people.
Employees stocked food pantries, hosted events for local hospice programs, painted homes, worked with local homeless shelters, and prepared care packages for troops overseas.
Some employees built flower and vegetable gardens for residents of a nursing home in South Carolina, while other provided sleeping bags for homeless children in Orange County, California.
The concerted volunteer effort builds on a core mission of BB&T that calls for the bank to “make communities we are involved in better places,” King says.
With a total of 33,000 employees, BB&T in 2009 contributed $21 million, all in cash, to support community causes.
Based on employee feedback, the bank will continue Project Lighthouse this year, says King, who participated as a volunteer on a team that included executive staff and assistants and built a wall at a barn at The Children’s Home in Winston-Salem to keep goats from eating stored hay.
“We helped a lot of people in a very, very tough economy be a little bit better off because of our employees’ involvement trying to help them weather this economic storm,” he says. “And we gave employees the opportunity to be involved in practicing what we preach by being involved to make our communities better.”