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Employees of the Nerdery donate professional services to nonprofits through the Overnight Website Challenge, a weekend marathon in which volunteers work on websites and digital marketing.

Provided by the Nerdery,

Building relationships and public service

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY
  • Star Tribune
  • June 16, 2013 - 6:50 AM

Building relationships is natural for a construction company.

That’s why Paris Otremba, the human resources manager at PCL Construction Services in Burnsville, volunteers at Summit Academy in north Minneapolis, the education and skills-building nonprofit that trains many women and members of minority groups for careers in the construction trades.

PCL donates money and employee time at Summit, Otremba said, because the volunteers have chosen Summit as a favorite nonprofit, partly because it dovetails with PCL’s plan to diversify its workforce as older employees retire.

“I enjoy doing the mock interviews with Summit students, and this introduces me to some of their students when it comes time to hire, and we’ve hired several of their graduates,” Otremba said. “Summit really produces a diverse pipeline of candidates. We also have worked together with them on building Habitat for Humanity houses, and that’s also a great way to get to know their people.”

At staffing-software firm Avionté in Eagan, most of the charitable initiatives are decided by an employee committee.

“Everybody here also gets three paid days a year to go volunteer somewhere,” said CEO John Long, a founder of the business. “I’m better off creating an environment on the charitable side of the business but let the employees follow through on their ideas for themselves. It can’t just be my ideas. I want this job to be a life-changing experience for our people. We have low turnover, and I think this may be part of the reason. Volunteering can change the world for somebody.”

There are numerous reasons why employees have voted their companies a Star Tribune Top Workplace. Workplace-culture experts say once employees feel they are paid and treated fairly, intangible benefits such as ethical leaders and a culture of “giving back” to the community can help employees identify positively with their companies, deepen their commitment and improve retention of valuable workers.

“Our research has found that employees who know and understand their organization’s values are 30 times more likely to be fully engaged than someone who works at an organization without values or who is unaware of the organization’s values,” said Don MacPherson, president of Minneapolis-based Modern Survey, which canvasses employees for employers.

“We have found that having values makes full engagement possible and the absence of values makes full engagement nearly impossible. Extraordinary organizations engage with their communities in ways that align with their organizational values. Then they effectively communicate what they are doing, why they are doing it and how their community involvement aligns with their values.”

Different companies take different approaches.

Avionté established a nonprofit foundation that supports company-backed charities in the Twin Cities area and Nepal, the birthplace of two of the founders, Sandeep Acharya, chief operations officer, and Samar Basnet, chief software architect.

“We’ve sponsored students in Nepal to help them get an education,” Long said. “And we support a charity that gets street kids out of jail. Kids with no dads whose moms are in jail. There’s a woman who runs the nonprofit that pulls out the kids and gets them to a safe school with food.”

Here are more examples of how Top Workplace companies give back to the community:

• At the Nerdery, the Bloomington-based Web-development firm, employees have donated more than $4 million worth of professional services to 114 nonprofits through its several-year-old Overnight Website Challenge, a weekend marathon in which volunteer nerds work on new websites and digital marketing for select nonprofits. “We’re grateful for the hundreds of volunteers who keep coming out to do this … and we thank our nonprofit friends for putting their faith in complete nerds,” Nerdery CEO Mike Derheim said.

• CEO Jim Loffler of Loffler Companies, a provider of office technology and services, likes to cite scripture in saying that much is expected of those who are given much. A Loffler volunteer committee has focused significant donations of time and money to St. Joseph’s Home for Children, Cornerstone, VEAP, Feed My Starving Children and the Vikings Children’s Fund, among others. Loffler has been honored with the national Jefferson Award for public service for its charitable outreach.

• At Lund Food Holdings, each store invests in a neighborhood charity of employee choice, participates in neighborhood fundraising and makes daily food donations to local food banks.

Allianz Life North America donated nearly $2 million last year to Twin Cities area nonprofits that focus on financial literacy and senior programs. And the company donates at least $100 per employee to every nonprofit to which at least five employees volunteer for an event, as did more than 1,000 Allianz associates last year.

 

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144

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