Community: Making a living, and a difference

Companies that offer their employees opportunities to do both find that volunteerism also helps the bottom line.

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Quality Bike Parts’ Steve Flagg and Full Cycle’s Crystal Brinkman chatted at a Donaldson Co. employee bike sale, which helped raise money for the Full Cycle program last month.

Photo: Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune

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Late one morning in May, a couple of Bloomington-based CEOs were breaking a sweat, unloading about 40 refurbished bicycles from a truck in preparation for a noontime event.

Though not part of their job descriptions, the exercise is of significant value to both of their companies.

Bill Cook of Donaldson Co. and Steve Flagg of Quality Bike Parts (QBP) were hosting a bike sale for Full Cycle Bike Shop, a nonprofit business of Pillsbury United Communities that provides internships to a couple dozen homeless teens annually. Full Cycle works with social workers to address the challenges facing homeless teens, including housing and education.

QBP and Donaldson have become the corporate godfathers of Full Cycle, an entrepreneurial nonprofit in a born-again auto-repair shop, founded by Matt Tennant, a youth worker and bicyclist. He discovered years ago that working on bikes with some teen clients helped them gain confidence and do better in life.

"I like meeting people and fixing bikes," said Javarius McRae, 18, a high school student who ate lunch at Donaldson before helping load 40-plus used bikes donated by employees. "It's a $7.25 per hour internship and this part-time job helps me get more in tune with the world of work."

Flagg, chief executive of QBP, which ranked No. 24 among mid-sized companies in our 2012 Top Workplaces list (up from No. 25 in 2011), started out as a bike shop worker himself 40 years ago. Today he runs the country's largest bike parts-distribution business. He likes what he's seeing at Full Cycle.

"Full Cycle is becoming more of a real bike shop," said Flagg. "The interns are learning skills, including maintenance, sales and digital commerce. And they each build their own bike. We have people who help out at Full Cycle and we even got our insurance company to hire plumbers who put in a really nice bathroom."

Mike Van Arsdale, a Donaldson engineer and bicyclist who lives only a few blocks from Full Cycle at 3515 Chicago Av. S. drops by to coach interns and assist.

"It's great to see these kids grow and see Full Cycle get sustainable," he said.

Donaldson and QBP help Full Cycle raise nearly half its $400,000 annual budget through philanthropy, bike sales and in-kind donations. QBP has also funded the full-time manager at the Full Cycle bike shop for several years, underwrites some special events and coaches staff and interns on everything from sales to parts to a new point-of-sale system.

Experts say that such philanthropic corporate endeavors, on top of meaningful work and fair pay, are another way for employees to bond with their companies.

"In study after study after study, employees who are offered and take advantage of corporate volunteer programs have higher levels of engagement at work and think more highly of their company and their corporate culture than employees who don't," said Teresa Daly, a founder of Navigate Forward and a veteran corporate consultant.

"Higher employee engagement leads to higher productivity, higher sales and better business results. Companies who invest in building positive cultures as part of their brand identities also have a much better ability to attract and retain the best talent," Daly said.

Many of the of employees who filled out the Top Workplaces survey cited community connections as a workplace enhancement. They include:

Allianz Life of North America The company donated $1.6 million to Twin Cities-area nonprofits in 2011, primarily focused on financial literacy and elderly services. Many employees work with organizations such as BestPrep and Junior Achievement to increase youth understanding of economics and business in practice.

Cargill Inc. invested more than $15 million in Twin Cities outreach, much of it targeted at education programs for disadvantaged kids. And Cargill's employee-led volunteer committee organizes programs and projects to encourage and support employee volunteers who work on everything from international aid to environmental projects with nonprofits.

Colle+McVoy has supported the United Way for more than 30 years, collects bath and bedding products for charities that serve families and adopts several needy families for meals and presents at the holidays.

Summit Brewing Co. offers its community room for use by local nonprofits, runs drives for Second Harvest Heartland and sponsors fundraising events for nonprofits.

Western National Insurance Group of Edina provides paid time off for volunteering and supports nonprofits with cash and employee time that provide food, shelter, clothing and other necessities for those in need. In 2012, Western pledged to donate at least one new vehicle annually to the transportation fleet of Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP). The program, called Driving Away Hunger, allows the nonprofit to provide transportation from its food shelf and to provide rides to limited-income seniors and those with dsabilities.

"Human beings want and need meaningful work as a part of full and healthy life,'' Daly said. "Meaningful work, by definition, is work that satisfies both the need to make a living and the need to make a difference. When an employer can offer both, they are providing employees with a more complete work experience, which will always ... pay off on the bottom line.''

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com

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