Community Engagement: The Key To Unlocking Your Organization’s Talent

Written by: Kristina Hein

By Kristi Huber, President & CEO, United Way of Cass-Clay
Photos by Hillary Ehlen

For employers, finding and recruiting an engaged workforce can often seem like a moving target. Organizations that are attracting our community’s best talent prioritize opportunities for their employees to volunteer and give back. Research continues to highlight the motivations that differentiate millennials in their career expectations compared to past generations, and many employers are searching for opportunities to fulfill the expectations of this changing workforce.

In Deloitte’s 2018 research, they found that “young workers are eager for business leaders to be proactive about making a positive impact in society.” It is more common than ever for a potential employee to ask about what causes organizations care about and if volunteer time is part of the benefits package. 

What Potential Hires Want to Know

Two common questions being asked by potential candidates during job interviews are: what social issues organizations care about and is paid volunteer time included in the benefits package? Employers who have been early adopters and implementers of social impact strategies have already seen the benefits to their company’s bottom line.

Dawson Insurance is a Fargo-based company that has prioritized a culture of community engagement for their employees for decades. They allocate 16 hours of paid volunteer time for each employee and also make it a priority to organize a variety of opportunities for their employees to collaborate as a team to serve different non-profits in the community.

Their employees’ presence across the community captured the attention of Andrea Gemelli, now Business Lines Account Manager for Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company and a current United Way Emerging Leader, as well as an alumna of the United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program. “Dawson Insurance caught my eye as an employer due to their outstanding reputation as an employer who cared tremendously for both their employees and the greater Fargo-Moorhead area. Their commitment to their community was one of the main reasons I sought out a job and career at Dawson Insurance.”

Andrea’s motivation to give back reflects the perspective of other millennials. “Like most things in life, you get out what you put in; investing our time, energy and resources in making this community a better place to live is beneficial on countless levels, some of which is difficult to measure since the impact is direct into people’s lives. I give back because it feels good to be a part of something bigger than myself. This community is a supportive one and our culture is enriched because of that helpful spirit.”

Andrea Gemelli is a Business Lines Account Manager at Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC Company. Andrea sought out a career at Dawson Insurance because she knew they were a company that encouraged their employees to volunteer.

A Convenient Way to Engage Your Employees and Grow Their Skills 

In 2014, United Way of Cass-Clay recognized that a program focused on volunteering and networking could be valuable to businesses looking for a convenient way to encourage their employees to give back. Over the past four years, the interest and enthusiasm of the program has been remarkable. Currently, more than 730 local individuals are a part of the Emerging Leaders Program, making it the largest young professionals’ program in the state of North Dakota.

Along with Andrea, participants of the Emerging Leaders program, gain access to hands-on volunteer opportunities to connect and serve with others, receive invitations to networking events with community leaders, as well as leadership development opportunities. The only requirements to join the program are an annual investment of $300 or more in the community with United Way and a commitment to give back eight hours of volunteer time throughout the year. 

“Becoming an Emerging Leader is achievable—for me, it is $13 a paycheck—that is something that I can commit to,” Andrea said. “The primary reason I joined Emerging Leaders was to make a commitment financially to my community, but then it has really kept my interest in that I always get emails about different opportunities, events, speakers and volunteer opportunities,” Andrea shared.

In 2019, the Emerging Leaders program will continue to host different events via various formats every month. In February, the program hosted a Leader Lunch with Gary Tharaldson, Founder and CEO of Tharaldson Hospitality Management, where attendees had an opportunity to hear directly from him about his philosophy on people-driven leadership. Other events include skills training on financial wellness and advocacy and opportunities to volunteer with other Emerging Leaders at the School Supply Drive and Day of Caring.   

A Positive Return on Investment for Your People and Your Business

“What I like about United Way Emerging Leaders is that I can choose the events that are of interest to me and fit in my work schedule,” Andrea said. Deloitte’s research supports the idea that flexibility in the workplace is seen as a value to millennials. “Good pay and positive cultures are most likely to attract both millennials and Gen Z, but diversity/inclusion and flexibility are important keys to keeping them happy.”

Over 100 businesses from across Cass and Clay counties have employees involved in the Emerging Leaders program. Dawson Insurance has over 22 Emerging Leaders from their business currently engaged in the program. Tom Dawson, President and CEO, believes that encouraging his team to be involved with United Way and this program has many positive returns for both employees personally and also the business.

“People make all of the difference in our business and when our team members collaborate with the United Way, it helps them make a difference in our community almost immediately. It’s a great way for them to leave a positive mark on where they live,” said Dawson.

Tom Dawson

Perceived Barriers to Community Involvement

Time and perceptions of decreased productivity are often the most common barriers for businesses, of all sizes, wrestling with the decision to transition to a culture that allows for flexibility and volunteerism. Companies that have already incorporated volunteerism into their culture intrinsically know and are seeing the benefits. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Volunteerism Survey, nearly nine out of 10 (89 percent) working Americans believe that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that do not. In fact, 70 percent of respondents say that volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours and 77 percent say, “Volunteering is essential to employee well-being.” 

Tom Dawson would agree, “The happier our team members are, the more productive they are at work. It’s hard to put a value on the return on investment but we believe it is definitely worth it!”

United Way of Cass-Clay will continue to be an innovative partner and provide meaningful volunteer opportunities to engage our community. Each year, we rally a community of change-makers to build connections, develop talents and make an impact. We believe that a thriving community with engaged employees and businesses will create a better tomorrow for all of us. 

If finding your best employees is a challenge for you today, capture the attention of your future workforce by prioritizing your organization’s community engagement strategy. Instead of chasing the target, you will become an employer of choice and watch talented individuals be drawn to work for you.  

To learn more or become an Emerging Leader visit

Share This Article
Kristina Hein is the Marketing Director of the United Way of Cass-Clay.