Building bridges: RBC volunteer fair connects employees with Twin Cities nonprofits

Volunteer spotlight
Community involvement

The event helped employees find causes that sparked their desire to give back.


Photo: RBC Wealth Management–U.S. marketing and corporate communications employees volunteered with Bridging following the 2023 volunteer fair.

Jeremy Schmidt and Gerd Bents are no strangers to guiding employees and leaders through change in corporate settings; they have years of experience providing direction on the principles of and best practices for successful transitions.

But in spring 2023, Schmidt, the manager of the organizational change management (OCM) team at RBC Wealth Management–U.S., and Bents, an OCM consultant, provided guidance for a different type of change management.

Schmidt and Bents advised employees of Minneapolis-based nonprofit Foundation for Essential Needs (FFEN), which helps Minnesota food shelves more efficiently provide access to healthy food in their communities, on how to become a change leader for food shelves and other hunger relief organizations throughout the state.

Photo of RBC Wealth Management's organizational change management team presenting to Foundation for Essential Needs in a boardroom.

Employees with RBC Wealth Management’s organizational change management team present to Foundation for Essential Needs.

The presentation was a result of an RBC Wealth Management–U.S. volunteer fair, which brought together employees and area nonprofits at the firm’s downtown Minneapolis headquarters in early 2023. The event aimed to help employees learn about local nonprofits, and to help those nonprofits find and build relationships with volunteers.

“We realized employees may not always know about nonprofits that closely align with their personal values and interests,” says Janet Becker, community affairs consultant with RBC Wealth Management–U.S. “There are countless opportunities for employees to use their skills to help uplift the community—they just need an introduction.”

Connecting employees with nonprofits

The three-hour fair was also a way for employees to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the only federal holiday recognized as a National Day of Service. Event organizers partnered with HandsOn Twin Cities, which helps connect companies with nonprofits to recruit volunteers and facilitate volunteer events, projects and programs.

Nearly 175 employees attended the event, many of whom spoke with representatives from 14 participating nonprofits whose causes included economic equity for BIPOC communities, immigration and refugee support services, education, disaster relief and more.

My Very Own Bed, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, took part in the event to find volunteers to deliver beds, run donation drives for linens and pillows, and make blankets for children transitioning from shelters to permanent housing.

“It was very humbling to have RBC’s support and the opportunity to meet potential volunteers,” says Michael Allen, founder and executive director of My Very Own Bed. “We are a very small organization, and these types of events help us build relationships that are necessary to fulfill our mission of helping kids get a good night’s sleep.”

Photo of RBC Wealth Management–U.S. employees visiting Minneapolis-area nonprofits at the firm's volunteer fair.

RBC Wealth Management–U.S. employees visit with Minneapolis-area nonprofits at the firm’s volunteer fair held in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

At the fair, Client Associate Pa Chia Vue learned about Bridging, an organization that provides quality furniture and household goods to people pursuing stable housing.

“I come from a family of immigrants, so it was great to find a nonprofit that’s helping people who are going through what my family has experienced,” she says.

Following the event, the RBC Wealth Management–U.S. corporate communications and marketing teams made plans to volunteer at Bridging’s Bloomington, Minn., warehouse. Over the course of two hours, one group of RBC volunteers loaded houseware and furniture into trucks to be delivered to the homes of Bridging’s clients. Another group conducted quality checks on donated goods, and after sorting through two pallets of towels and washcloths, assembled towel sets that would be made available during clients’ shopping appointments.

“Volunteering with Bridging was a great bonding experience for our large group, and we were able to prioritize community needs together,” says Jennie Smith, senior marketing manager at RBC Wealth Management–U.S.

Sharing knowledge and skills

Like Bridging and the other participating nonprofits, FFEN also aimed to connect with new volunteers at the fair, and an introductory conversation with Schmidt helped uncover a way the OCM team could help.

Statewide food shelf surveys conducted in 2019 and 2022 found that some food shelf shoppers reported feeling disappointed with their experience. Survey respondents said they didn’t believe they were always getting what they needed from their local food shelf, such as a consistent selection of fresh, nutritious produce. Some also reported feeling unwelcome in the food-shelf space—in addition to a lack of dignity.

With those survey results in mind, food shelves have become aware of the changes necessary to improve the shopper experience, explains Kate Burggraff, FFEN’s executive director.

“The food shelves we work with have great systems in place, but there are many food shelf leaders who want to do better for their communities,” she says.

Food shelves are often run by volunteers who have limited resources and lack expertise in long-term planning. They rely on FFEN for guidance on data management, communications, layout of their physical spaces and project management to help them think strategically about their operations.

Schmidt and Bents organized a workshop for FFEN, in which they explained how food shelf leaders can help their organizations evolve to meet clients’ needs, and provided tips and techniques that employees and volunteers can use when working to implement such changes.

“We felt we could provide some important insights into how FFEN can support food shelves navigating change,” Schmidt says.

In addition to sharing useful tools and resources with FFEN, the workshop served to further develop the relationship between the OCM team and the nonprofit that formed at the volunteer fair.

“The OCM team really understood the unique variables of the work we do with our clients,” says Christine Page, FFEN’s community engagement manager. “They were so responsive and willing to lend their insights, right from the initial conversation at the fair.”

Related articles

RBC Wealth Management helps give kids the opportunity to play soccer

Sports 3 minute read
- RBC Wealth Management helps give kids the opportunity to play soccer

RBC Wealth Management, Major League Soccer shine a light on Washington, D.C., nonprofits

Well-being 3 minute read
- RBC Wealth Management, Major League Soccer shine a light on Washington, D.C., nonprofits

RBC All-Stars are showing up in their communities and at the office, too

Well-being 5 minute read
- RBC All-Stars are showing up in their communities and at the office, too