Why Everyone Loves Your Company: Employee Volunteer Programs
This post was featured in Forbes.com.
Isn’t that a nice headline to see? In a time when corporations are seen as the big evil, it’s refreshing to hear about employees who love their jobs, not just because of the work they do, but because they feel well-treated, recognized and respected by their employers. A surprisingly large part of this love affair can be due to how much an employer truly embraces corporate social responsibility and community impact initiatives through employee volunteer programs. When corporate philanthropy touches the lives of employees, the result is often increased employee engagement - sometimes to an amazing degree.
Want some proof? Here are three happy love stories to ponder.
Nothing comes between a woman and her shoes
When Jill Calhoun, Facilities Services Manager of Da Vita, was tasked with finding a project for her company’s corporate volunteering service days, she never thought she would wind up shopping for shoes.
Through a co-worker’s recommendation, Jill called Shoes That Fit , a national non-profit that matches children in need from thousands of schools with local sponsoring groups who provide the kids with much-needed new shoes so that they can go to school in comfort and with dignity. Shoes That Fit matched DaVita, a leading dialysis provider, with Lincoln Elementary in Santa Ana, California, near Jill’s Irvine-based office. Jill initially thought she would be able to drum up about two hundred donations from her co-workers, but after meeting with the school’s staff, Jill learned that 1000 kids needed shoes.
"When I realized that 800 children wouldn't get shoes,” Jill said, “I decided this wasn’t right."
Armed with the names and shoe sizes of all the kids in need, Jill got to work and mobilized co-workers in other DaVita locations in Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties. The drive was dubbed “March Madness” and within 10 days of Jill’s call to action, DaVita employees committed to the 1000 shoe donations. After much shopping and organizing, Jill and her fellow volunteers delivered the shoes along with socks (also donated by DaVita employees) to Lincoln Elementary right before the March 2012 spring break. The kids were delighted and amazed; one of the thank you notes said, “Thank you so much. My tummy feels sparkly pink like my sparkly pink shoes.” Principal Damaris Molina Baker said that the school has previously been the recipient of donations from various charities, but providing a gift for every child had never been done before and the enormity of the effort was unprecedented.
Jill credits her co-workers but is also grateful to DaVita for empowering her to make this endeavor possible. She says that DaVita was not only supportive of the time she needed to invest in the effort but also made sure she had whatever she needed; whether it was another 20 pairs of shoes or extra manpower, management made sure she got it even if the cost came out of their own personal pockets. Jill's determination and the company's team spirit kept the non-profit fundraising ideas flowing, and the result was a win-win all around. “DaVita is like an extended family to me,“ says Jill. “We look out for each other and take care of our own.”
Clearly, they also take care of their community as well.
Volunteering on company time - and on the company dime
Millennials are well-known for their commitment to community service, and energy solutions provider greeNEWit demonstrates this truism through their active corporate volunteer program.
A startup organization based in Columbia, Maryland, founded and led by three entrepreneurs under the age of 30, greeNEWit provides energy efficiency solutions to single and multi-family homes. As the fourth employee to be hired at greeNEWit, Brad Eisenberg knew the minute he walked in the door that not only the work, culture and values were a good fit for him but the entrepreneurial spirit that drives the company was unique.
In addition to Brad’s job as Director of Development, he also administers the company’s volunteer and giving initiatives. While the business was developing, some of greeNEWit’s employees found that they didn’t have enough full-time work, so in order to provide them with a consistent, full-time salary, greeNEWit management decided to pay their employees to do volunteer work to make up for the missing hours. Thus their corporate volunteer program was born. Four years later, the company now has enough work to have grown from five people to 50, but the community impact work continues, and still on the company’s time and dime.
greeNEWit’s latest corporate social responsibility initiative is a partnership with Opportunity International, a non-profit that helps people in developing countries break the cycle of poverty by providing small business loans. The company purchased an allotment of small loans in the form of gift cards and are distributing them to their employees so they can decide which Opportunity International businesses to invest in, giving them a voice in the company’s philanthropic choices.
In addition to supporting third world businesses, greeNEWit also supports their employees’ businesses. greeNEWit allows its employees to own and run an outside company (Brad’s is weBike; stationless bike sharing systems). “My bosses are not only flexible and encouraging,” Brad says, “but in many ways, they’ve served as mentors to me in my own business. I can't ever see myself leaving greeNEWit and absolutely plan on having a career here even after weBike is a success. I think that, in it of itself, really speaks to how much I love this company.”
Wow. greeNEWit’s dedication to the well-being of its community and employees redefines the very idea of employee engagement.
Putting your money where your mouth is
In her job as Manager of Community Relations for Philips, Kathy Rogers is well-versed with corporate social responsibility. What she feels sets Philips apart from many companies is that Philips just doesn’t write a check; they actually put their money where their mouth is by encouraging their employees to volunteer in their communities during company time and sponsoring employee-led initiatives.
Philips, a lifestyle and well-being company, has a long-standing tradition of supporting communities where their employees live and work. Even before implementing Philips Cares, its current corporate volunteer program, Philips informally encouraged its employees to take paid company time off to make their communities a better place, and to volunteer at organizations that promote health and well-being. Philips Cares evolved out of Philips’ commitment to corporate philanthropy and continues to provide employees with paid-time off to participate in meaningful volunteer opportunities that suit their needs, schedule and the causes they support.
What started for Kathy as a Philips-supported United Way Day of Caring (a single day of volunteering) in October 2001 has turned into an ongoing, 11-year volunteer commitment to Merrimack Valley Food Bank's Mobile Food Pantry program. Kathy delivers one of life's basic necessities - food - to its homebound clients. Nowadays, Kathy can be found delivering organic fruits and vegetables donated from Philips’ employee community garden, which is located on Philips’ huge campus in Andover, Massachusetts. The garden originated from employee desire and enthusiasm to create an organic garden and it became a company-sponsored project. On work days, various departments and employees take time out from their jobs to tend and cultivate the garden, with the literal fruits of their labor going to local charities.
Between her job and volunteer work, Kathy sometimes has to work long hours, but she never minds. “I don’t mind giving to Philips because Philips gives to me. I feel lucky to work for a company that values what I value.” She laughs. “Sometimes I feel like a walking commercial for Philips.”
If your company is as committed to its community and employees as these businesses are, then who knows - maybe your company is also an object of rabid affection. And your employees will become your best, most inspired brand ambassadors.
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