Inc. staff writer Jess McCuan shares stories and insight into socially responsible companies in her series, Giving Back.

Making Charitable Work a Company Priority

When Jon Dezelsky founded Dream Team Technologies in Denver in 1996, he knew he wanted the business to be community-oriented -- which at first seemed like a cinch. His original crew of seven employees was enthusiastic about contributing time and money to local charities, and after four years of steady donations, the employees agreed to a system that fully incorporated charitable giving into their compensation packages.

What they came up with was a company measure that evaluated employee contributions on three levels: individual performance, team performance, and company performance. Fifty percent of an employee's compensation is based on individual performance; 25% on team performance; and 25% on company performance. Inside the company performance, a quarter of that compensation is directly based on an employee's community involvement. "It affects people's pay on how well we do giving back to the community on a monthly basis," Dezelsky says. "[Giving back] could be financially, it could be volunteering, it could be creating an open house for the nine story building we're in--we have all different kinds of community projects that we do."

Dream Team Technologies' main business is designing websites for schools and government agencies. While the company's revenue has grown over the years, and cash donated to local charities has run into the tens of thousands, there have been some lean years where the wealth wasn't so easily spread. During 2001 and 2002, when the company, and many others, struggled, Dezelsky's company donated websites and tech support to non-profits who needed the work, and even shared office space with some. "Instead of outgoing cash we used our non-cash resources instead," says Dezelsky.

Dezelsky found that outside of hosting non-profits, donating their services to them encouraged his own staff to think creatively about the Web's possibilities.
The company receptionist, for example, offered to take charge of a site for a non-profit, which led her to embark on a self-directed crash course in website maintenance.

No matter which cause you commit your company to, Dezelsky says, it's important to check out the charity in advance, and to make sure you have the time and resources to deliver what the charity needs. He says he once signed up for a board position with a Denver-area non-profit that expected new board members to write hefty checks. Dezelsky only wanted to offer his time and opinions, and his holding out on the donation check turned out to be a wise move: The group went bankrupt six months after he joined. Dezelsky also once had an employee volunteer for a community service project through Dream Team Technologies, but then the employee became less enthused about actually doing extra work. When the project fizzled, it left a bad taste in the community group's mouth, and it didn't do much to bolster Dream Team's reputation.

If you'd like to start making a contribution to your local community but aren't sure how, here are some tips from Dream Team Technologies:

1. Get to know your neighbors. Dream Team Technologies has been working out of a new nine-story building in downtown Denver for eight months, and recently, they realized they didn't know their neighbors. In January, they're sponsoring a block party with food, wine and booths where other companies in the building can learn about non-profits. Dezelsky is hoping to be able to help his neighbors better understand which non-profits might need their help and educate them on how they might contribute their services to help the non-profits as Dream Team has done.

2. Talk to your employees about causes they might be interested in supporting. If anyone in their family has ever suffered from a disease or ailment, they may be interested in volunteering for local events that help raise money to prevent that disease. In early talks with his employees, Dezelsky says, he discovered that one of them was passionate about combating Multiple Sclerosis. Her sister had suffered from it, and she was interested in mobilizing other groups of employees to join the cause. "She brings that to the team, and next thing you know, we have a fire under us," says Dezelsky. "Without passion, why do it?"