How Your Office Should Recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Here’s how your team can participate in this year’s day of service, and plan a bigger effort for 2019.

How Your Office Should Recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day
[Photo: Flickr user Ron Cogswell]

This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on Monday, January 15. More than just a day off, this national observation of the civil rights leader, established in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, is a day of service during which people, companies, and organizations are encouraged give back to their communities. Each year, thousands of organizations nationwide lead or participate in events throughout the country, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).


While time is short to plan day of service activities for your organization or team this year, there are still a number of things you can do if you want to spend the day giving back.

Organize A Drive

Chances are you have a nonprofit in your area that is in need of gently used clothing, nonperishable food, personal hygiene products, pet supplies, or other items to use for the population it serves or distribute to those in need. Contact your local food bank, animal shelter, or organizations that serve low-income and homeless populations to find out what they need. Then encourage your coworkers to donate those items and deliver them to the charity.

It’s a good idea to ask team members for ideas about organizations, says Rebecca Teaff, founder of Redstart Creative, a Baltimore-based marketing firm that works with mission-driven brands. Often, they’ll know about worthy or interesting organizations that need support, and your team will feel a more personal sense of connection if they have input into the effort, she says.

Host A Screening Or Talk

The University of Richmond has a number of events planned to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. throughout the month of January. Among them, the university will host a screening of Hidden Figures and host a discussion of the film afterward. On another day, a brown-bag discussion entitled, “What is anti-racist work?” will be held during lunchtime. Think about screening a film or documentary about service work or plan a “lunch and learn” about how to make a difference in the community. Contact your local library for ideas on films or speakers.

Donate To Disaster Relief

“2017 was a year of unprecedented natural disasters, and while the most urgent and immediate crises are over, disaster recovery and long-term response and rebuilding have just begun,” says Megan Strand, director of communications for Engage for Good, a cause marketing membership organization based in Rye, New York. Work with your team to raise funds. You might even hold a contest and award a prize—or simple bragging rights—to the individual who raises the most money. Strand says some organizations working on relief efforts include Habitat for Humanity, Team Rubicon, and MercyCorps.

Share Your Corporate Values

Strand says this day is also a good opportunity to share your corporate values with employees and consumers. She points to the letter released on last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day by Greenlining Realty USA Founder Lamell McMorris as a good example.


Volunteer At A Local Organization

Gather a group of coworkers—or make your own plan—and contact local nonprofits to see how you may help them. Chip Heim and Megan Shea, founders of The Soulfull Project, a Camden, New Jersey-based maker of hot cereals, along with their colleagues and families will serve dinner to those in need at The Cathedral Kitchen in their home community. The Cathedral Kitchen is the largest food provider in Camden and serves more than 100,000 meals a year and provides table service, so there is no food line.

Find an organization that has a need for extra hands and plan to spend the day or at least a few hours there. You might also consider joining another organization’s efforts. To find possibilities, look here.

Start Planning For Next Year

If you’re interested in organizing a bigger or more comprehensive event for next year, now is also a good time to start planning, Teaff says. Create a team of employees interested in working on the 2019 event and gather their suggestions about what to do. Teaff says it’s a good idea to choose efforts that align with your organization’s mission and values, and about which your team cares. (The Soulfull Project’s work with feeding hungry people is a good example.)

“Setting up days of service is a really great way to build company culture and camaraderie,” she says. At Redstart, the team holds days of service to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day and September 11. And when planned properly with team engagement, you can truly make a difference in your community.

Start with a specific activity or measurable effort, she says. That way, you don’t overcommit people or resources. The CNCS provides a variety of resources to help you plan and promote your event.

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites