We’re very big on community. Not just the community that we create internally, but giving back to the world outside of our four walls, too. As a B Corp, we’re on a mission to make the world a better place to be, and we believe that starts with us. In 2018, we introduced our paid Volunteer Time Off program to reward our employees for the good they were already doing, and encourage them to pour even more love into our community.

When we mention our Volunteer Time Off program (or VTO, as we call it), we’re frequently asked just how the program works. So, we’re breaking down the case for VTO and sharing a few of our tips that we’ve learned along the way.

Starting With the Basics

What exactly is VTO? VTO is an allowance of paid time off designed specifically to give people the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and lend a hand in our community during the workday, without having to dip into their PTO. Basically, it’s PTO that’s used exclusively for employees to volunteer.

More and more companies are implementing VTO policies – simply because giving back just feels right. While companies aren’t in it for the credit or the perks, there are some pretty great side benefits to employee volunteerism. Studies suggest that volunteering boosts both mental and physical health. By encouraging people to take time off, you’re promoting a healthy work/life balance and underscoring your commitment to giving back. You’re building relationships, making new connections, and giving folks the opportunity to be a part of something even bigger. And, increasingly, more people are looking to work for companies who are making the world a better place. That means that not only are your current employees benefitting, but you’re attracting awesome people who are aligned with your mission to come work for you in the future, too.

The First Few Steps

When you’re designing your VTO policy, ask yourself some of the same basic questions that you’d ask for any other types of time off you might offer (like vacation days or bereavement, for example) – How much time is feasible for employees to take off? How often do new hours (or days) get “deposited” into an employees VTO bank?

Here at Portland Internetworks, we give each of our employees eight paid volunteer hours per quarter to help support nonprofits here in Portland. But, every organization is different with different goals. Think about what’s feasible for you, what’s going to help drive your mission, and don’t be afraid of starting too small. Small steps can add up to huge impacts!

Getting People Involved

So, now that you’ve got some of the basic framework here’s the most important part – How do you actually get your employees involved? Some folks might already have causes in mind, and some might just not know where to start. But, that’s okay! To help make things easier, start by organizing a few opportunities. You can promote opportunities that folks can sign up for themselves, or register for a small block of slots. (Hands on Greater Portland and Oregon Food Bank make it super easy to sign up for small groups!) If you have specific causes or organizations that you want to support, this makes it simple and easy for folks to get involved in ways that are the most meaningful to your company.

In addition to company-organized VTO opportunities, you can also give folks the freedom to choose which organizations they want to support. All of our stories are different, so the causes that are nearest and dearest to us are different, too. By giving people the opportunity to choose how and who they spend their VTO, you’re giving them the chance to spend their volunteer time where it matters most to them. Some of our in-house fan favorites are Portland Parks and Rec’s trail cleanups, grocery shopping for seniors through Store to Door, and helping keep Portland clean with SOLVE Oregon, just to name a few.

At the end of the day, whether your employees are cleaning up trails, baking pies, packing groceries, or picking up litter off the streets of your neighborhood, they’re spreading positivity and furthering your mission, one step at a time.

Whether you’re looking to make some of your community initiatives more official or Corporate Responsibility is your middle name, encouraging your employees to lend a hand in the world is a great way to scale your impacts, both internally and externally. But, there are so many more ways to give back, too. So, if you’re in a place where paid volunteer time doesn’t work just yet, we encourage you to still consider the ways that you can support the community around you.

When you give back, everyone wins – you feel good, your people benefit knowing that they’ve made a difference, and most importantly, the community thrives.