Two years ago, Box, which helps businesses collaborate and manage content in the cloud, had a revelation about their holiday party. Sure, it was fun to dress up fancy, meet co-workers’ “plus ones,” and consume appetizers and cocktails, but was this really the best use of the company’s resources and their employees’ time? The top executives decided, no.

Instead, Box replaced the champagne and caviar with the Box Global Holiday Impact Day. Last week, at the company’s second annual event, they had 70% of their 2,000 employees (Boxers) volunteer with local organizations. With help from us at Give To Get, Boxers in 38 cities worldwide mobilized to create art therapy kits for veterans, deliver food to people with HIV, build furniture for those rebuilding after a fire, pack winter items for local shelters, create fun activities for kids in the hospital, and more.  

“People were skeptical at the beginning, wondering how we could be taking away the holiday party,” said Christina Louie Dyer, Box.org’s Senior Manager of Global Programs. “Now it’s one of their favorite days of the year.”

“In addition to bringing people together in an organic way”, said Dyer, “it brought the holiday spirit even more into the company. Plus, it’s really great for employee culture and retention.”

Indeed, today’s workers, especially Gen Z and millennials, are not sticking around for work that isn’t meaningful, and replacing them is much more costly than organizing a day of volunteering. Even the Business Roundtable recently made a groundbreaking statement that companies must stand for more than profit in order to survive in this new era of transparency and social responsibility.

If you haven’t already hopped on board the giving-back train, the holidays are a perfect time to start. Here are some of the elements that made Box.com’s party so successful, and what may also work for you:

  • Tie the cause to your company’s larger mission. When looking for a cause to get your team behind, look at your own sustainability report. Whatever you want your people to do, tie it to the larger mission and direction of the company. We are always surprised at this disconnect. Alignment usually unlocks funding, tells a larger story that motivates participation and gets the attention of the C-Suite. If your brand promise connects with your actions, you’ll enjoy consumer loyalty. And tying the cause to your larger mission will keep the event authentic, which your customers will recognize and support.
  • Use the holidays to launch a long-term plan – A year-round commitment to social good is so much more important than one great holiday experience. Yes, people need emergency aid after a hurricane, but mostly they need systemic ways to rebuild their lives. Similarly, all social and environmental causes exist beyond December and need ongoing support to make a difference. A seasonal event is a perfect opportunity to launch initiatives, such as “Dollars for Doers” or time off for volunteering throughout the year.
  • Don’t waste people’s time. Nobody wants to carve out a day to volunteer and then arrive only to stand around with nothing to do. Similarly, those who work at nonprofits aren’t sitting around waiting for 250 people to show up to “help” when there is not a clear task at hand. A successful event takes months to plan, from sign-ups and transportation to food and thank you notes, everything needs to be thought-through and executed well so that nobody’s time is wasted.
  • Take advantage of your employees’ skills. What are your employees passionate about and specifically good at? Find a nonprofit that can benefit from their unique expertise. For example, we work with the marketing agency Digitas, which is filled with creatives. Every year we harness their design prowess by beautifying a different inner-city school in Chicago. Hundreds of people come out to paint murals, update computer labs and art departments and generally take full advantage of the employees’ artistic and technical skills to give these run-down schools a boost of love and beauty. Digitas employees say it’s one of their favorite parts of working at this company.
  • Make it fun. Invest in a good sound system. Buy food and drinks for your team. Seriously, the more fun this event is, the more people will appreciate it and want to do more. Even Box.com, which transformed their holiday party into this amazing day of giving, ended the day with a scaled-back happy hour for people to relax and let loose.  

Times are changing. Business as usual is not enough. Use these holidays to break traditions, fire up your employees, and give back to your communities in a meaningful way. Because purpose is the new way to party!