Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Employees, Creating a Company-Wide
Creating a Company-Wide Volunteer Culture
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Employees

For the first ever Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Volunteer Week, you'd think the company would have been happy with a decent number of employee participants and some good photo ops. But Volunteer Week organizers Annalisa Amicangelo and Ellen Sojka had something loftier in mind.

They recognized the opportunity to create a whole new company culture around this global event – a culture based on community involvement and giving back, and reinforced by active executives at the top as well as engaged employees throughout the company.

Goals for Volunteer Week

The first annual Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) global Volunteer Week occurred November 12-18, 2012. The company-wide week of service was designed to support local communities in HMH's 23 office locations all over the world.

HMH is a global education leader, focused on the mission of changing lives by fostering passionate, curious learners. Thus, Volunteer Week projects were designed to engage employees and local communities around the company's shared values and corporate citizenship pillars: giving voice to under-served populations; promoting access to new ideas; and removing barriers to success.

In addition to these corporate social responsibility goals, Annalisa and Ellen hoped that Volunteer Week would serve as a culture-building experience within the company. Since Houghton Mifflin merged with Harcourt in 2007, there had been little success unifying the employee population culturally, and a company-wide week of giving back seemed like a great opportunity to do just that.

"During Volunteer Week, we set out to support our local communities and grow HMH's employee community. We've received incredible feedback from people who developed deeper relationships with their colleagues, met someone in their office they never knew, and most importantly felt a part of something bigger than themselves," said Ellen.

A Global Success

When Volunteer Week was over, more than 1,000 employees had participated in over 100 volunteer projects in three countries. HMH employees gave over 4,700 hours of volunteer time to serve local community causes during the week, bringing the total donated time in 2012 to over 15,500 hours. More than 50 local project leaders helped HMH employees impact hundreds of nonprofit and community organizations during 2012.

A key to the success of Volunteer Week, says Annalisa, were the local Community Investment Councils (CICs) that operate in each of the company's major offices. They empowered each CIC to do location-based planning, which put a more familiar face to the local projects.

And speaking of local projects, the array of volunteer events that occurred during Volunteer Week is pretty staggering. From book sorts to tutoring sessions, classroom computer upgrades to job-readiness training, HMH employees took their first annual Volunteer Week as an opportunity to really get personally involved with their local communities.

For instance, the Geneva, Illinois CIC engaged several senior leaders at HMH in a project to tutor and educate the clients of World Relief, an organization that provides critical services to immigrants and refugees across the U.S. In addition to providing essential job-readiness training to World Relief clients, the CIC triggered an ongoing dialogue with a potential source of future HMH distribution center employees.

Another great project was organized by the Dublin, Ireland CIC to support the Mary Help of Christians Girls National School. Over the course of a day, a team of eight employees conducted reading activities with students, trained teachers on Interactive White Boards, upgraded the school computer room, and even painted the school yard.

"We knew that school computer labs were old but it wasn't until we saw the Windows 98 stickers, the old Eircom [Telecommunications] logo and P3 [computers] that we realized how old they were," said Dublin employee Allison O'Donohoe. "However, that didn't diminish the obvious enthusiasm of the teachers and students for learning using technology."

Volunteer Week projects impacted not only organizations and people in the community, but the employees themselves. "The experience was an eye and heart opener for me," said Mei Chen of her time volunteering at Epiphany School in Boston, Mass. "Helping kids with a less fortunate living situation, and giving back even when I'm busy at work or in my personal life, makes me see it doesn't take much to help others if you set aside a time for it."

In addition to the local CICs, executive buy-in was an important factor in the success of Volunteer Week. Mary Cullinane is Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and acted as the executive sponsor of the week.

"By encouraging and facilitating employee volunteerism—particularly in education settings—we look to help our employees better understand the challenges facing students and teachers today," explained Mary. "It's one thing to have values as a company, but we must continue to work harder at demonstrating them."

Mary's passion for driving the program, and her influence on the rest of the executive team, made a big difference during Volunteer Week. The flagship event was in Boston, and the entire senior leadership team was there with sleeves rolled up the whole time. "Seeing Linda Zecher, our CEO, and her executive team volunteering was not only motivating for employees in the Boston office, but also sent a clear message to the entire company that volunteerism is encouraged and supported by HMH's senior leadership," said Ellen.

The VolunteerMatch platform was another piece of the pie, and a really helpful tool, according to Annalisa. The technology solution provided one landing page where the CSR team could direct employees, a one-click sign-up process, and the ability to capture data all in one place. The reporting functionality helped them target their outreach and follow up in meaningful ways to get employees more engaged.

"VolunteerMatch was critical to our ability to decentralize Volunteer Week across dozens of office locations," Annalisa said. "The platform enabled local project leads to take ownership of their events while equipping the CSR team with the information we needed to support them."

Looking to the Future

"The impact of Volunteer Week was much more than the sum of its parts," Annalisa related. Not only did the CSR team collect a wealth of stories and stats that showcase their work in the community, but they created and strengthened relationships with social good organizations and projects all over the world.

Perhaps even more impressively, they created and strengthened relationships among employees within their own company. "People felt prouder to work here at HMH – a company that prioritizes bettering the community," said Annalisa.

The next HMH Volunteer Week is scheduled for October 2013, and there's no doubt it will be a success. As the first Volunteer Week showed, HMH is a company with a culture– from top to bottom and back up again – of giving back to the community.

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