The Return on Volunteerism –
How serving can fast track your career growth
VP of Training
Hopdoddy Burger Bar in Austin, TX
Kelly McCutcheon is the VP of Training for Hopdoddy Burger Bar in Austin, TX and a very active CHART member. She credits part of her success in the hospitality industry to her mindset of serving others first. “Aristotle once said, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,’” shares Kelly. “So whatever kind of volunteering you decide to do, whether it’s on the personal side or the career side, out in the community or within your own organization, it will come back to you multiple times over.”
Take a look at her tips for how to get your employees and organization involved in giving back this year, and how it directly relates to career growth, employee satisfaction and employee loyalty to your organization as a whole.
“At its core, our industry is hospitality and service. When I marinate on that a little bit, I think the definition of service is to humble yourself to the needs of others. Volunteering has that same definition, and so the two are really linked.”
How did volunteerism play into your career growth?
I’ve always been drawn to companies that do more. This is my twentieth year in the restaurant business. I started my hospitality career in college, in a little Italian bistro, just to earn some spending money. Then I went to PF Chang’s for 10 years, growing my career from a server to a regional training manager. I’ve been with Hopdoddy for six years, and it was just last month that I was proud and humbled to be promoted to VP of Training – and I think my commitment to volunteerism played a part in my career growth.
At its core, our industry is hospitality and service. When I marinate on that a little bit, I think the definition of service is to humble yourself to the needs of others. Volunteering has that same definition, and so the two are really linked. When you operate in that spirit of truly wanting to do more… that’s noticed.
Looking back on the last six years at Hopdoddy, I’ve kept my focus on humbling myself to the needs of others, not necessarily doing what I need to do to advance my career. It may be the path less chosen. It may be the path that took me a little bit longer to get there, but it feels right.
How do you find good volunteer opportunities?
Some volunteer opportunities have definitely fallen into my lap. Some have just been about saying yes. For example, our home office support team recently volunteered at Operation Blue Santa where we packed toys and boxes for kids in the Austin area. It was a great way for our team to unite and come together with a common goal.
But some volunteer opportunities are about following your passion. And to start there, you have to network and find your niche. I’m always saying everyone should have a side hustle or that thing that they are working on. A lot of time people think of that side hustle as an extra job or writing a book. For me, my side hustle is this… volunteering with CHART.
I started volunteering with CHART in small ways. The first time I went to a CHART conference, I just took it all in. The next time I went, I decided to be a first-time attendee ambassador. Then the time after that, I taught a class. One of my personal goals is to do something new at each CHART conference I attend, and they offer plenty of opportunities for that.
For the conference coming up, I’m tapping back into my first volunteer role with CHART, but instead of being an ambassador, I’m actually on the committee that is leading this conference’s first-time attendee ambassadors. This will likely end up being approximately 20-30 individuals who will each get one to two first time attendees to mentor. It’s not that I won’t do things that I have done before – I’ll actually be teaching a class again – but I always want to challenge myself to try something new.
“Some volunteer opportunities have definitely fallen into my lap. Some have just been about saying yes.”
How should hospitality businesses get involved in volunteerism?
There are so many volunteer opportunities. The Internet is a great resource for finding opportunities, of course. But for me, it’s about the individual connection. My advice is to network first and ask what you can do. Go out to lunch with people that do what you do with different companies and find out what they’re doing. If what you’re wanting to do isn’t out there, make it happen. Organize an afternoon at your home office, your restaurant or hotel. I guarantee there’s somebody in your office right now that is so passionate about a need. Attach yourself to that passion, start volunteering there, and begin to cultivate your own.
CHART is also a great place to get involved and they make it easy. Every conference, they have a Community Give Back volunteering opportunity. We’ve built bikes for kids. We’ve made food for the homeless. It’s really cool. Hopdoddy has actually taken our inspiration from that and we now start our own conferences with a Give Back event.
How does volunteerism within organizations help build loyalty and satisfaction with employees?
I think volunteerism, job loyalty, and job satisfaction are all strongly linked. People want a sense of purpose. If they aren’t getting it in their job, they’re inclined to look for it elsewhere. But we have a limited amount of opportunity and drive that we can give to the day and work takes up a lot of that. It’s really magical when those two things can come together within the workplace.
Simon Sinek once said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” One of the ways Hopdoddy enforces the “why we’re doing this” is through our “Good Night, Good Cause” charities. Through this program, each of our 35 restaurants has a neighborhood charity we support. For every burger sold, we donate a portion to that charity. Some of our team members chose to get really involved and volunteer with the charity in person, some team members give back by just suggesting the Good Night burger to customers. But the program as a whole helps our team feel connected, that they’re a part of something bigger. That drives that sense of purpose we all crave.
“If what you’re wanting to do isn’t out there, make it happen. Organize an afternoon at your home office, your restaurant or hotel. I guarantee there’s somebody in your office right now that is so passionate about a need. Attach yourself to that passion, start volunteering there, and begin to cultivate your own.”
What is your advice for companies looking to add volunteer events for employees?
If you walk away remembering one thing, it’s to start small. When we think about volunteerism, we think of these really big names. If you start small, if you partner with an organization where you can see the impact of your dollar, it will motivate you to do more.
One quick example, we have one restaurant in Denver. They don’t have a lot of donating power as a single restaurant. But we partner with an organization called Camp Courage that puts on a two-week summer camp for kids with life-threatening illnesses. Our funds are the primary support for this camp, helping provide the kids with a summer camp experience and round-the-clock care.
You can also turn your efforts inward. It’s not just about what you do within the community, you have a community within your four walls, too. Creating an employee assistance fund is a great way to give back as well.
Whatever you do, make the impact visible so people can see they truly are making a difference, and want to give back more.