washington - "Volunteering is an important part of my life and provides me with meaning and fulfillment," said Karishma Roopchand, a senior manager in corporate strategy and research for Liberty Mutual, a major U.S. insurance company with 45,000 employees.
While still getting their paychecks, Roopchand and members of her team spent almost three months as volunteers for the YMCA of Greater Boston. The YMCA is a nonprofit that focuses on youth development.
The team worked to increase membership for the charitable organization. They conducted market research and collaborated with senior management on a project.
"It was like a full-time job," Roopchand said, "and inspiring to make an impact. I'm lucky I work for a company that prioritizes volunteerism."
Liberty Mutual employees clean up the outside of a shelter for women and families in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Liberty Mutual)
Liberty Mutual is among a growing number of companies in the United States that are paying their employees while they volunteer.
Mental health, food and housing insecurity, and youth homelessness are of particular importance to Liberty Mutual, explained Melissa MacDonnell, president of the Liberty Mutual Foundation.
"Our legal group volunteered to put together a handbook for homeless youth with information that included their rights and resources for housing,' she said.
There are also corporate days of service, when employees can work on projects with community partners.
"Our employees have a wide breadth of knowledge and expertise," MacDonnell said, "and we have a list of organizations to choose from and their needs."
After serving 10 hours, employees are eligible to receive a $500 award to give to the charity of their choice.
Environmentally focused volunteerism
Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company based in Ventura, California, began its volunteer program 28 years ago, focusing on environmental activism.
Some 3,000 Patagonia employees are each provided up to 18 hours of paid time off per year to volunteer.
"Anybody from the entry level to the CEO can do it," said John Huggins, Patagonia's public relations and communications manager.
"I think it deepens the employees' connection to the purpose of the company which is to save the planet,' he said. "We've had a lot of people work for animal rescue nonprofits like wildlife centers."
Patagonia employees remove a fence from a former sheep ranch in Chile's Patagonia region that is now a national park. (Photo courtesy of Patagonia)
Huggins thinks volunteering helps improve employee morale, especially when it's done by a team.
"People in many of our retail stores will work for a local nonprofit, with each employee volunteering for one or two days over several months,' he said.
Patagonia also has a paid longer-term environmental internship program.
"We have employees from all over the world who spend up to two months away from their regular job working as an intern for an environmental nonprofit of their choice," said Huggins.
This includes employees who spent three weeks in Chile working to restore a former sheep ranch, now on the site of the country's newest national park.
As part of the company's mission for social responsibility, employees are given paid time off to volunteer on election days.
Jonathon McNeill, a merchandise processor at Patagonia's distribution center in Reno, Nevada, recruited employees to help staff two local polling stations during the U.S. midterm elections on November 8.
"I'm passionate about making sure our elections are free and fair," said McNeill. "The polling stations needed additional manpower and I was glad to lend a helping hand."
Wide range of service
According to Bank of America, the second-largest bank in the U.S, its workforce of more than 200,000 employees are volunteering at more than 25,000 charitable organizations.
"People can volunteer and get paid for up to eight hours per week," said Julia McKnight, a Bank of America executive who oversees the volunteer program.
"They have done everything from building bicycles and robots to volunteering at a food bank," she said. "My husband and I are foster parents, so we volunteer for fostering nonprofits."
When an employee completes 50 hours of volunteering, the bank donates $500 to the charity of their choice.
Among those doing volunteer work is Brendan Kelly, a senior business continuity consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Bank of America is headquartered. He and his teenage son started a food recovery nonprofit, collecting leftovers from college dining halls to feed the less fortunate.
Bank of America employee Brendan Kelly, left, and his son Aiden started a nonprofit that collects leftovers from college dining halls to feed the hungry. (Photo courtesy of Peter Taylor Photography)
Kelly said he appreciates that Bank of America pays him for some of the time he puts into his nonprofit, while also providing funding.
"The bank is very much about empowering people," he said, "and encourages us to have an impact in our communities."
Health insurance provider Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota offers each of its approximately 3,500 employees up to 20 hours of paid time off to volunteer each year.
At their "Community Giving Garden" in Minneapolis, volunteers grow vegetables that are given to a local shelter. Employees also serve at a food shelf, which is set up like a market with more affordable food.
Employees of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota build a playground at a YMCA in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota)
"The employee comes away with leadership skills and a sense of belonging," said Susan Schuster, the insurer's principal community relations consultant, "and the company gets a more engaged employee who has a better understanding of the issues that are impacting the community."
Employees such as Ashley Pattain, a senior pharmacy benefits management analyst, who has collected school supplies for children in low-income neighborhoods and helped high school students improve their writing skills.
"It's amazing that my company allows time for volunteering," Pattain said. "I have children and can do it during the workday when they are at school."
Liberty Mutual's Roopchand, who is 33, said more people in her generation are making volunteering a priority.
"I think there's a desire to feel connected to your community,' she said. 'Volunteering is a big part of that."