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Southwest Airlines' Servant's Heart--Then and Now

wbartels
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When Southwest Airlines first began 39 years ago, The Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” was at the forefront of our Culture and business strategy. And today, although much has changed in how we operate, our LUV for our Customers is as strong as ever.

Southwest has been giving back to the communities we serve since the very beginning. It wasn’t long before Southwest was receiving nearly 20,000 donation requests each year. Back then, each request came in the mail (no, not email, the original snail mail). Every request would then be recorded, processed, and filed by hand. Still, despite the tedious process, every request that came to us would be answered, either by a personal telephone call or through the mail.

In 2008, Southwest issued a survey to identify five strategic areas of focus--families facing serious illnesses, military and their families, youth leadership and community involvement, disaster preparedness and response, and the environment. Prior to this, 98 percent of Southwest’s donation requests were answered with the gift of two tickets. While these donations were important, Southwest decided to make a larger impact in the identified areas that our Customers and Employees told us mattered to them. As a result, Southwest began focusing a larger part of our attention (and budget) on these focus areas in order to make a greater impact on the national level.

Still, Southwest did not neglect the smaller, local organizations. Southwest has always treasured our local relationships and the establishment of local Community Giving Boards was a logical next step. These Boards were established to empower Southwest Airlines Employees to have a direct and personal impact upon the causes and charitable organizations within the communities they live and work.  The Boards create a “hometown” way to evaluate and process these requests. Furthermore, our new online application allows for more efficient management of the requests. Now, instead of handling manually, our system organizes the requests by city and organization type. Then, the Community Relations and Giving team as well as the Local Giving Boards can easily access information on the request status, the budget and the organization’s 501(c)(3) status. And just like that, Southwest can still make a big difference with a much more efficient effort.

The evolution of the donation request process is only one example of the many ways Southwest Airlines has evolved over the past 39 years. But still, some things never change. True to The Golden Rule, Southwest still acknowledges and answers every donation request we receive. We still lead with a Servant’s Heart when it comes to giving back to the community. And we’ve been fortunate enough to do so even through the ups and downs of the economy. It’s just a simple way we like to say thanks to all those who’ve made these past 39 years a success, not to mention a fun ride!

For more information about how Southwest gives back to the community or to request a donation, visit southwest.com/donations. Southwest also is known for its commitment to the triple bottom line of Performance, People, and Planet.  To read more about how Southwest is doing its part to be a good citizen, visit southwest.com/cares to read the One Report and to learn more about the Share the Spirit program.