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Giving Back, to Ourselves and Others

Kerry W. Elam
Mar 13, 2017

At Actualize Consulting, “giving back” is one of the foundational principles of our corporate culture, starting with ourselves and our employees, then spreading out to our clients. It doesn’t stop there, though. We believe in also sharing our success by “giving back” in ways that are truly helpful to our local community.
We did something different in 2016 to focus on giving back for the “thanks and giving” season. Throughout the month of November, I sent a daily e-mail to our employees (including executives and all levels), to remind us of different ways to make a positive impact. These e-mails were also one way that I was able to give back to our employees and we all received joy and positive energy in return!
Following is a sampling of what the e-mails contained and this could be done anytime of the year.
Giving back to ourselves
When we treat ourselves with kindness and generosity, we learn how to get even better at doing the same for others. As a bonus, happy employees also provide a wonderful customer experience. It was important to provide a few “giving back” messages that helped us focus on our own wellbeing. Many of our themes are focused on nourishing and moving our bodies; therefore, I wanted to change the focus to play and the emotional spectrum.
Being playful is critical to recharging from our work and caring for those in our lives. During the month, I sprinkled in some funny cartoons and a reminder that playing is contagious. If we choose to be playful, it is hard for those around us not to engage—as shown by the polar bear and dog in Stuart Brown’s Ted Talk “Play Is More Than Fun”. We see a wild polar bear ready to fight, facing a tethered dog. But instead of having the dog as a meal, the polar bear begins to play with her. Why? Because the dog was in a play stance, and the polar bear simply joined in.
To counter the playful side, I also wanted to address the opposite as we have had numerous employees suffer loss in the recent months. In his book Joy on Demand, Chade-Meng Tan discusses “The Art of Suffering,” saying “The Art of Suffering Is Love–What if your suffering is so intense that it completely overwhelms your ability to work with it? In that case, you need to learn the Art of Suffering.”
During those intense times, Tan went back to his teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, in suffering, which instruct us to completely feel how we feel, be gentle with ourselves and allow all our feelings, and then have compassion.
Giving back to our clients
Our clients sustain us, motivate us, push us to succeed, and provide so many reasons for us to enjoy our work. For all they give to us, we definitely want to give back to them and make sure they know we don’t take them for granted. Our communications as a firm focus not only on our people, but also our clients. We like to go out of our way to ensure client satisfaction. Instead of waiting for the December holidays, we offered to send company swag and personalized thank you notes when clients are not expecting them. We also sent employees simple reminders of relationship building ideas, such as sending relevant industry articles, going above and beyond on a simple task. We want our clients to know we handle each task with the highest level of importance.
Giving back to our community
As Daniel Goleman, author of Focus and Emotional Intelligence said, “One aspect of wisdom is having a very wide horizon which doesn’t center on ourselves,” or even on our own group or organization. Actualize puts that theory into action by encouraging participation in activities that support social causes and help us extend our horizon of awareness. Throughout the year, we give back to the community in creative ways. In the summer, we donated shoes to the Doe Fund so the graduates of the program could go on job interviews.
For this “giving back” theme, we encouraged our team to donate gently used coats. For any pictures shared, we put their name in a drawing to win prizes. One of our employees sent in a picture of a suede jacket with fringes she had bought abroad over 20 years ago.
Keeping the fire going
So the idea of giving back isn’t just a “one and done” activity, we need to keep finding ways to fuel the “giving back” fire. At Actualize, gratitude is a fuel for that fire, and it’s endlessly renewable.
For the final week of these e-mails, I asked that employees send why they are grateful to compile for social media—and included mine, which was gratitude for our performance bonus structure. Other employee responses included:
►“I'm grateful that I have the resolution to be grateful. Being grateful motivates me and keeps me focused on what's good in the world.”
►“Today, I am definitely grateful to have a career that makes me proud; the kindness of strangers during the holidays; the many sites I see daily for donations; health and happiness surrounding my friends and family …”
►“… for working with this great group of professionals that make up the Actualize family. By far the best company I've ever worked for … Thanks everybody for all your help and the positive attitude that you bring on a daily basis …”
We have found that even a small company can have a huge impact when all levels of leadership and employees truly care about making a positive difference.
I encourage you to try with your own company something like this month of giving back, as it brings employees together, provides inspiration, and makes a positive difference for employees, your company, and your community.

Kerry Wekelo Elam is managing director of operations and human resources with Actualize Consulting. She may be reached by phone at (703) 868-1506, e-mail [email protected] or visit

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

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