Employees give 5,000 hours in company-wide volunteer day

By his own admission, Robert Emery is not especially handy around the house. Yet this past April, the financial analyst at IGS Energy put on a tool belt in the name of a good cause.

As part of IGS’ All-Employee Day of Service—a program in which the energy company’s workers are encouraged to leave their offices and spend a weekday volunteering with a nonprofit organization—Emery signed up with Habitat for Humanity, which was constructing a house in Hungarian Village. Emery was given an assignment to help install the new home’s vinyl siding.

“Being able to go and actually do construction on a house that was ultimately going to be for somebody that doesn’t necessarily have the means to buy a house like that—that was obviously awesome,” Emery says.

Goodwill, food pantries and animal shelters are among the many agencies IGS teams with on this day of service. The energy company, which supplies gas and electricity to states scattered across the U.S., operates out of Dublin.

The program originated with internal surveys that suggested employees were eager to volunteer but lacked the know-how to get started, says IGS director of community investments Jen Bowden.

“We actually asked people, ‘How many times in the last 12 months have you volunteered?’ ” says Bowden. “If their answers were below a certain point, it was, ‘What were the barriers that stood in the way of you volunteering more?’ ”

Bowden says that a statistically meaningful number of employees said that the prospect of volunteering was intimidating. “We had lots of employees who wanted to volunteer for causes but didn’t know how to navigate that themselves,” she says.

In response to the demand, IGS launched the All-Employee Day of Service in 2016. The event may take place on a single day each year, but requires many months of advance planning.

“About six to eight months ahead of the day of service, we start lining up and organizing volunteer sites,” Bowden says. “Most volunteer shifts are two or three hours, and we want to send people for an entire day, so a lot of times the nonprofits will need time to think about a project that’s big enough.”

Employees sign up for specific opportunities available on the day of service using an online registration tool. “It might say, ‘Goodwill Columbus has room for 20 people, Habitat for Humanity has room for 14 people,’” says Bowden, who adds that some employees don’t have a preference about where to volunteer—they just want to get involved. Although Bowden says participation is not mandatory, the company has a participation rate close to 100 percent.

Increasingly, the day of service is timed to align with National Volunteer Week, but it always takes place on a business day, during business hours. “We don’t say we shut down the company for the day, but the entire company spends an entire workday giving back to the community,” Bowden says. “That’s a big statement.”

IGS’s commitment to supporting volunteer service helps attract prospective employees, says Bowden, who points out that candidates at career fairs often ask about ways in which the company gives back.

Emery, who joined IGS about a year ago, was drawn to the company because of its reputation for encouraging volunteerism. “There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a company to work for,” Emery says. “Most people think of pay and time off and all that, which are obviously important, but at the end of the day, you also really want to have a positive impact on the community.”

In fact, the goal of the company is to make the day of service amount to more than just one day. “The next day, we have an opportunity where we celebrate,” Bowden says. “We aggregate stories and the list of all of the work that was accomplished.” Then emails go out, reminding employees of further ways to volunteer.

“It’s not just this sidebar thing that comes along once a year,” Bowden says. “It’s consistent with our higher purpose and with the culture that employees experience coming to work every day.”

As Emery sees it, the day of service is also a chance to get to know colleagues outside of their comfort zones. “I know I had to look pretty ridiculous at times, trying to measure the siding and then cutting it and searching for studs in the wall,” he says. “It’s cool, because these people are experts in other fields, yet they’re a little bit vulnerable out when they’re doing construction.”