Doing Well by Doing Good
More and more entrepreneurial companies are recognizing that support of employees' community service work can help those employees feel better about their jobs and their companies. Not long ago, Jenai Lane, president of Respect Inc., a San Francisco company with 1998 revenues of $2 million, launched a new initiative. Employees get paid for doing volunteer work. One day a month, each of Respect's 10 employees can work at a nonprofit of his or her choice, and Lane will pay the employee for the time.
Lane, whose company manufactures jewelry, cosmetics, and accessories, began the program when she realized how busy her employees' lives were. She says, "I think it really helps with employee morale and giving people a sense of purpose."
While some entrepreneurs follow Lane's route and encourage employees to pursue their own interests, other companies try to involve workers in community service projects related to the business. For example, Kay Hirai, owner of a Seattle hair salon called Studio 904, takes her 22 employees, including 13 stylists, to an elementary school in a low-income neighborhood each month to cut children's hair.
Other companies offer a mix of employee involvement and company giving. In 1992, Jim Dodson, president of an Indianapolis collective that buys office services such as supplies and overnight delivery services, started the Sycamore Foundation. The foundation consolidated the Dodson Group's support of several social service organizations. "This way, we can give even when the company has a down year," says Dodson, whose company gives 10% of its after-tax profits to the foundation. The foundation then underwrites an annual charity golf marathon, and Dodson Group employees help out on the day of the event. The foundation allows selected nonprofit organizations to use the event as a fund-raiser by charging people to play. That way, Dodson says, the company's giving is leveraged and multiplied. While the event costs about $15,000, the nonprofits raise about $40,000.
Meanwhile, on the fourth Friday of each month, Dodson Group employees serve at the local soup kitchen on company-paid time. Dodson finds that the program, which has been in place since the early 1990s, is good for employee morale and attitude. The stint at the soup kitchen gives employees a reprieve from their hectic jobs, plus some needed perspective. "A lot of our people work in customer service, and they hear about problems all day long," says Dodson, whose company reported 1998 revenues of $11 million. After three hours of serving food to homeless people, they realize that "the problems we have with customer complaints are not really a problem at all."