At Idealist, we believe most people want to do good in the world, but we also know obstacles can get in their way. Learn how one company is removing obstacles to help people give back in their communities.
Shoe company Dansko—a founding B Corp—has always been active in their community in the Delaware Valley, both by supporting local nonprofits with grants and by volunteering company manhours. Believing that most people—and therefore most of their employees—want to give back, they offer 20 hours of paid time off to volunteer to everyone on staff, every year. This represents about 1% of each person’s total annual work time.
In addition to offering paid time off, the Dansko Foundation also donates a proportional amount of the employee volunteer’s salary to the nonprofit where they’re volunteering. For example: if someone volunteers five hours of time during a work day, Dansko donates what an employee would earn in those five hours to the same nonprofit.
How you can do it
Dansko says its program is adaptable to any workplace. Marc Vettori, the company’s director of human resources, shared more detail on how to make it work wherever you are:
Get buy-in. Get your company’s human resources, operations, and finance departments in your corner from the start, along with your executive team and foundation staff, if you have them. Support from senior leadership sets the tone for the importance of the program. When you’re working to get buy-in, be prepared with best practices literature, like this primer on volunteerism in the workplace.
Decide how much time to give. Dansko first offered 16 hours, then jumped to 20, a change that came from researching best practices. It’s important to speak with HR, operations, and finance and to do some research before deciding on the number that’s most comfortable for your organization.
Decide how employees will request time off. The process can be as formal or informal as your organization dictates. At Dansko, employees simply schedule the time with their manager, while also planning how work will be covered while they’re out, just as they would for regular time off.
Think about what qualifies for supported volunteering. Dansko keeps it pretty simple: for paid time off to count, employees need to volunteer with registered 501(c)(3), non-denominational, not-politically-affiliated organizations. If your company would rather see volunteers put their professional skills to work, you could consider time off for pro bono services.
Reach out to nonprofits and/or make yourself accessible. It need not be a requirement for you to connect employees to volunteer opportunities, but since Dansko was already doing it, offering employees this extra came easily to them. The HR team was in the habit of emailing and posting volunteer opportunities to a bulletin board—mostly ones that came in through staff or board recommendations, or existing relationships with organizations like Brandywine Health Foundation, Canine Partners for Life, and Stroud Water Research Center. Organizations sometimes also approach Dansko because they’re known in the community for being a company that likes to give back.
Set and measure goals. Dansko measures success in two ways: they like to track how employees take pride in volunteering (and they do!) as well as how many want to participate, and they also set numeric goals for how many people actually do volunteer and how many total hours are served.
Communicate success. Dansko is really proud of their work in the community. They talk about volunteerism as well as the efforts of their foundation on their website. Internally, they speak about their accomplishments at staff meetings, which is a great promotional and morale-boosting tool. They also provide gifts for volunteers like t-shirts and other swag—yet another way to promote pride.
In 2013, Dansko employees volunteered 1,100 hours in the community. Out of 175 employees, about 135 of them volunteered—a great success!
Marc reminds us that the longest journey starts with a single step. He says other organizations who want to begin a similar program should take the leap and launch, then assess how it’s going and make improvements as they go. He also suggests that the company do some of the legwork of sourcing volunteer opportunities for employees—that makes it much easier for them (and therefore the program) to succeed.