Volunteer Time Off is a Valuable New Benefit in Workplaces

Photo by UW Credit Union

In a recent conversation with Madison Essentials publisher, the topic of volunteer time off (VTO) came up. I explained that UW Credit Union has a successful VTO program in place, and was asked if I would be willing to write about it. The Giving & Sharing issue is the perfect place for this story.

Volunteerism is woven into Wisconsins cultural fabric. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Madison has one of the countrys highest volunteerism rates. More than 40 percent of residents donate their time to a charity, nonprofit, or civic organization, while the national average is about 25 percent.

What compels so many locals to lend a hand to a worthy cause? Individual generosity certainly plays a role, but its only part of the story. A key supporting actor is VTO, whose popularity is rising among Dane County employers.

VTO programs give employees a paid break from their usual duties when they participate in company-approved volunteer projects, typically during work hours. The programs have been shown to bolster employee health, performance, and morale while providing community organizations with a reliable source of pro bono assistance. Plus, theyre a way to put a companys values into practice.

Millennial job seekers find VTO especially attractive. According to a recent Fortune report, this demographic favors companies that demonstrate a sustained commitment to community service.

Pam Peterson, UW Credit Unions chief human resources officer, has seen this preference play out in the hiring process. Job candidates often tell us theyre looking for an organization that supports and aligns with their personal values. For many candidates, especially those who are millennials, volunteerism is one of these values.

Corporate citizenship is gaining importance among professionals of all ages. Corporate social responsibility is increasingly becoming a factor as to why job seekers pursue one organization over another, says Pam. This is one reason our VTO benefit helps us to recruit and retain great employees.

A Shared Sense of Purpose
VTO stems in large part from Silicon Valley, where Salesforce and other tech companies have sung its praises for years. UW Credit Union has helped lead the trend locally, along with employers Exact Sciences, Sonic Foundry, and others.

Launched in 2018, UW Credit Unions VTO program gives full-time employees 16 hours of paid volunteer time each year. They can spend this time at a wide range of nonprofits and community agencies either individually or as part of a group.

Pam says VTO provides team-building opportunities and helps employees with similar interests get to know one another better. All of this contributes to tighter bonds and a shared sense of purpose. Through VTO projects, employees develop and deepen relationships at work. This contributes to a high level of engagement at their jobs and encourages them to stay with our organization.

Photograph provided by UW Credit Union

Building Bridges, Eroding Barriers
Many UW Credit Union employees find volunteer opportunities through the United Way of Dane County, where President and CEO Paul Kundert is chairing the organizations 2020 Giving Campaign. Other employees initiate their own volunteer projects. Over the past two years, employees have stocked food pantry shelves, cleaned up the Ice Age Trail, and much more.

Volunteering with kids is one of the most popular choices. TJ Ebert, a branch manager, has volunteered with SecureFutures, an organization that helps teens develop financial literacy through classes and one-on-one coaching. High school is a critical time to develop healthy habits with saving and spending. Its exciting to watch students create their first budget and see how successful they are at adding money to a savings account to reach a goal. Getting to know their mindset also helps me serve students who come into my branch.

UW Credit Unions software and user-experience engineers have lent their expertise to Maydm, a nonprofit where girls and children of color build science, technology, engineering, and math skills. In addition to helping kids program robots, the team shares their enthusiasm for innovation and learning. It was fun to high-five students when they got their robots to work, and it was inspiring to see their drive to succeed, says Angie Grogan, a manager who took part in the project. Women and people of color are underrepresented in the tech community, so I felt honored to help a great organization thats working to change that.

Brandon Labeots, a senior financial specialist, volunteered with a child in an entirely different way. He and his daughter made greeting cards for residents of Meadow Ridge, a retirement home in Baraboo. Meadow Ridge has a special place in Labeots heart because its where his grandfather spent his final years. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, he saw an opportunity to provide some much-needed support. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, when Meadow Ridge residents were unable to have visitors, my wife and daughter created some art to boost their spirits. I also wanted to provide something to my grandfathers friends there, so my daughter and I wrote letters about my childhood memories of my grandfather. We sent them in envelopes illustrated with depictions of these memories.

As Brandon shared his memories with his child, he found he was better able to grieve his grandfather. Also, he knew his family had done something meaningful. VTO has real value. It has allowed me to give back to my community and create a deeper connection with it, and it has helped many of my coworkers do the same.

Between work and family, many of us wish we had more time to give back, but sometimes reality isnt so accommodating. If your employer doesnt yet have a VTO program in place, now is a great time to suggest starting one.

Jessica Steinhoff is a writer for UW Credit Union, an award-winning Wisconsin employer and not-for-profit financial institution. For details about job openings, visit uwcu.org/careers .

UW Credit Union

3500 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53705
(800) 533-6773