Oct 25 2012

Think Global, Act Local

Think Global, Act Local

At Return Path, we have always had a commitment to community service and helping make the world around us a better place.  We ratcheted that up a lot in the last year, which is why we added the following statement in as one of our 14 Core Values:

Think Global, Act Local.  We commit our time and energy to support our local communities.  

We feel strongly that companies can and should make the world a better place in several different ways.  Certainly, many companies’ core businesses do that — just look at all the breakthroughs in medicine and social services over the years brought to market by private enterprises, including my friend Raj Vinnakota, who I blogged about here years ago. 

But many companies, including Return Path, aren’t inherently “save the world” in nature, and those companies can still make a difference in the world in a few ways:

  1.  Allow employees to take a limited amount of paid time off for community service work
  2. Organize projects in the local community for their employees to help out/work at
  3. Provide matching gift programs so employees’ donations are enhanced by the company
  4. Donate money or services to charitable organizations they believe in

As a relatively small company, we have had to pick our battles here.  When we were smaller, we had a policy for #1 above that allowed employees 5 days per year of paid time off for community service work in addition to vacation.  We organized projects here and there for employees, including various walks and races and drives, and multiple Habitat for Humanity projects, including one that our employees blogged extensively about after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (see Tom Bartel’s final blog post of 7 here.  We never had a specific policy around matching donations, but we were always quick to support one-off employee requests.  And we did have comprehensive program for #4 above to donate cash and in-kind services to one particular charitable organization that fought Multiple Sclerosis, which was inspired by a long-time employee who was diagnosed with MS. 

Over the years, our approach has evolved around service.  When we moved to an Open Vacation policy a few years back, we effectively eliminated the Community Service time off benefit since people can just go do that now under the umbrella time-off policy.  We do still organize some projects for employees from time-to-time, but those are done on an office-by-office basis.  The biggest change in our approach was to stop doing company-run projects, stop responding to one-off requests from employees, and stop supporting a single organization.  We felt that those things, while good, were diffusing the impact that we could potentially have.

So this year we launched something called the Dream Fund.  Once each quarter, we invite self-forming teams of employees to submit applications for a $10,000 grant to help make some corner of their community a better place.  There are some loose guidelines around the use of funds (e.g., they can’t be a straight donation, they have to include some hands-on work), and we have a panel select each quarter’s winner.  So far, we have had two projects run very successfully: 

  • Sistas Against Cancer which supports the Avan Walk for Breast Cancer.
  • Tennyson Center for Children. This charity supports kids suffering from abuse, neglect, emotional crises and other traumatic experiences will get the help they need while finding healing and HOPE in a safe and caring environment

There’s no right way to do community service as a company.  Bu t we feel strongly that part of our “mission” (an overused word if there ever was one) was to have an impact on the world around us – not just on our customers and fellow employees, but by using our time and money to help those who need it most in the many communities where we operate around the world.