Doing good helps you do well
Corporate volunteerism grows as
companies realize host of benefits for
staff and themselves
The Globe and Mail: Wednesday, January 19,
2005: By SHIRLEY WON
Lesley Brown, an executive with Investors Group Inc.
in Toronto, recently traded in her cellphone and high heels for a hammer
and steel-toed work boots to help build some town homes in suburban
Ms. Brown and 13 colleagues from the mutual fund giant didn't mind
working through drizzling rain and cold winds for a day that might
otherwise have been spent in a warm office because they were
volunteering side by side for a worthy cause -- helping Habitat for
Humanity erect affordable housing for low-income people.
"It's a double win," says Ms. Brown, vice-president of financial
services for the Ontario region at Investors Group. "Not only are we
doing something good, but we are doing something that further connects
the bond between the people in the office."
Such corporate volunteerism is gaining momentum in Canada as more
companies understand the business case for participating in charitable
Doing good for others also means doing good for themselves and their
employees by helping to develop a variety of staff skills -- from
team-building to leadership. Companies are also finding that corporate
volunteerism helps to boost morale and loyalty, and can give them an
edge in both recruiting and retaining talent.
Unlike a decade ago, when companies participated in charitable causes
more for public relations reasons, they are now just as driven by the
impact on employees, says Chris Pinney, vice-president of corporate
citizenship for the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy.
The increase in corporate volunteerism is a welcome phenomenon against
the backdrop of a decline in overall volunteerism in Canada in recent
years, says management consultant Linda Graff, president of Linda Graff
And Associates Inc. in Dundas, Ont. The latest figures from Statistics
Canada, released in 2001, show that the number of volunteers in 2000
shrank to 6.5 million, down one million from 1997.
Company-sponsored efforts can range from allowing employees to modify
their work hours or take time off without pay for community service to a
more generous practice of permitting staff to do volunteer work on
company time, also known as "release time."
As more companies choose the latter option, they are going a step
further by sending teams of employees out together to work for charities
for up to several days a year.
The charitable activities can range from helping to build homes for
low-income Canadians to delivering meals to the elderly to sorting goods
at food banks.
"It's not just cheque book philanthropy," Ms. Graff says. "We are now
recognizing that volunteering gives back important benefits to the
person engaged in it, and to employers who encourage their employees to
Her review of various studies indicates that volunteers can gain
transferable job skills from doing charitable work, and that
company-sponsored volunteerism can increase job satisfaction among
These studies -- particularly in the United States and Britain, where
the trend is stronger -- also show that corporate volunteerism helps
employees gain "softer" skills, such as team-building, she says.
Perhaps because of these benefits, volunteers also may see their
A 1998 study entitled The Payoff to Work Without Pay by economists at
the University of Ottawa found that volunteer work helped boost annual
earnings of volunteers over non-volunteers by 6 to 7 per cent.
Marlene Deboisbriand, president of Volunteer Canada, which promotes
volunteerism, also points out that employees who work for companies that
support volunteerism tend to be more loyal, which reduces the need to
recruit and train replacements.
Many charities are seeing the benefits. Habitat for Humanity, which
appears to be top of mind for many companies, says close to 150 firms
sent teams of employees to the organization's construction sites last
year, up from a mere half a dozen five years ago, says Neil
Hetherington, chief executive officer of Habitat's Toronto chapter.
Some charities even have to turn volunteers away. Toronto's Daily Bread
Food Bank, for instance, saw corporate bookings rise to about 40 in
2004's busy November-to-December period, about double the number during
the same time the year before. It had to stop taking bookings over the
holidays, says executive director Sue Cox.
Companies offering to help the food bank say that they
think it's important for their people to "give back" to the community,
but they are also motivated by providing opportunities for greater
team-building, Ms. Cox says.
Investors Group's Ms. Brown says her
company has sent out teams to work for one-day "builds" at Habitat for
Humanity projects at different Ontario sites for the past four years.
The recent experience in Toronto involved a combination of salaried
employees like herself and self-employed financial advisers.
survey of Canadians by Investors Group found that "giving back to the
community is very high up in the client's opinion of corporations," but
the firm is also aware of the team-building benefits of working together
in a non-office environment, Ms. Brown says.
The Habitat for
Humanity projects allow participants to "build unity in our team because
you are focusing on the same thing," she adds. "Typically at work, you
might have different agendas."
While Investors Group lets
employees volunteer at the discretion of managers, other firms have a
more formal policy of letting employees do their volunteering on company
One of them is Markham, Ont.-based Timberland Canada Co.
Like its U.S. parent, the outdoor gear and apparel manufacturer gives
its employees 40 hours of paid leave a year for community service.
This generous policy has helped to woo new employees like Evan Selby,
who left his former employer to join Timberland two years ago when it
opened a Canadian subsidiary. "It was one of the attractive things to
me," because it shows the firm is dedicated to more than just making
money, says the 33-year-old marketing manager, who has participated in
company teams helping charities such as Habitat for Humanity.
Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd., based in Oakville, Ont.,
allows its managers and supervisors to take up to 16 hours of company time
to volunteer each year. The program, which began in 2001, a year after its
U.S. parent took the lead, stipulates that qualifying projects must involve
teams of at least four people.
"It was set up to return some benefit to the company as well as to
the community," says spokesman John Jelinek. "By requiring more than one or
two employees to go out on a volunteer project together, you tend to build
camaraderie and co-worker team-building."
Mobile equipment maker
Ericsson Canada Inc. gives its employees up to three days of paid leave a
year for volunteer work, but they can do it either in teams or as
individuals. "Any time that you get to spend with your colleagues that is
not always sitting around a boardroom table can strengthen your working
relationship," says Ericsson communications manager Patricia MacLean.
KPMG Inc. of Toronto began a national program this fall to allow
employees to volunteer at least one day a year on company time.
was a breakthrough for us because we are very hierarchical here," says Mary
Lou Maher, chief of human resources. "We have partners, managers, chartered
accountants and administrative assistants. . . . We thought it was really a
benefit to the team as a whole in that everyone saw everybody on equal
While these companies have formal policies of paid leave for
volunteer work, more companies are like Mississauga-based Nissan Canada
Inc., which give its managers discretion to allow employees to work for
charities on company time. Employees delivering food to seniors for Meals on
Wheels over the lunch hour once a week, have the flexibility to leave work a
little earlier than usual and return a little later.
who has been delivering meals during the past four of her 20 years with
Nissan, says Nissan's attitude toward volunteerism is one of the reasons she
stays with the company. "How they allow us to be involved with the community
absolutely makes me feel better about being there," the communications
Toronto-based retailer Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. also
allows employees to do volunteer work at the discretion of managers. For
instance, employees in its human resources department spent a day at a local
food bank, breaking into teams with different coloured T-shirts, says Janice
Wismer, Canadian Tire's vice-president of human resources. "We believe
strongly that community-based action is a really healthy and important way
to develop our leaders."
The corporate volunteer program at Habitat for Humanity works in two
ways. Typically, this charity asks that firms that send out employees to
take part in its one-day building programs also donate $150 a person.
Companies can also donate an amount to cover the entire cost of building a
house, and have their employees work in teams building it over several
Toronto-Dominion Bank donated $150,000 to build a home in
downtown Toronto last fall, and 150 employees worked on it during company
time. The bank's CEO, Ed Clark, and other senior executives also
participated one Sunday.
"We put together teams where we wanted
people to get to know each other a little better," says Fred Tomczyk, TD's
vice-chairman of operations. "When we put this up, we had to turn down
volunteers because all different departments were putting up their hands."
TD is increasing its emphasis on volunteerism because a poll conducted among
employees last spring indicated that the bank's charitable giving and
volunteer efforts were "very important in terms of how they feel about the
company," Mr. Tomczyk says.
"We like to think that will help us
attract and retain better people . . . Our view is that people who are proud
to work here will perform better."
Getting going in
companies can set up a corporate volunteer program:
- Let employees choose whether to participate, and
what kinds of activities to engage in. Explain the benefits to
employees, the community and the company.
- Make the program appealing. Consider allowing
employees to do the volunteer work during company time -- a powerful
motivator -- and offer the flexibility for them to participate in
teams or as individuals.
- Provide interesting opportunities. Survey employees
about the kinds of volunteer work they would like to do. Staff will be
more motivated to participate if they find projects that interest them
and are fun.
- Set up a formal program. Assign someone to
administer and communicate support for it through the company's
mission statement. Make sure managers have the resources to carry out
their department's work when staff are away.
- Build employee support. Consider letting employees
bring spouses and children to fund-raising events. Employees who
organize volunteer events can be recognized in the company newsletter
or on the company website.
How employees can lobby for a
corporate volunteer program:
- Make a business case.
- It may be easier to convince management if you can
make it work for the company. Volunteer Canada (1-800-670-0401 or
http://www.volunteercanada.ca) can provide advice on how to do so.
- Pitch to management. Sell the idea to your human
resources department or, in the case of smaller companies, a senior
manager who can make those decisions. If they resist permitting
volunteer work during company time, consider appealing for a flexible
work schedule to permit volunteer work.
- Talk up a charity. Instead of pitching management
on a corporate volunteer program, sell a specific project.