Photo: Klosfoto/iStock Photo: Klosfoto/iStock

Shantal Feltham has always considered giving back to the community her social responsibility, not to mention a rewarding endeavor—especially when she’s coaching her son’s hockey team.

Even when she was busy launching Stiris Research Inc., a clinical trial management firm for biotech and pharmaceutical businesses, volunteering was something Feltham couldn’t give up. Instead, she built a clause into the company’s handbook allowing employees to take unlimited paid time off to volunteer.

“We have to be socially responsible,” says Feltham, who ranked No. 9 on the 2016 W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs. “We’re teaching our kids how to be good adults, and giving back to the community. If you’re child is going on a class trip, you can go. If you take two hours out of your morning every Tuesday to go and be a reading buddy for a Grade Three class, go—that’s a good investment in our community.”

Feltham isn’t the only executive paying employees to offer their services elsewhere. In a 2014 study titled ‘Giving in Numbers,’ The Conference Board and CECP, a coalition of CEOs committed to social improvement, surveyed the top 100 Fortune 500 companies and found that 60% of them offered paid-release time to volunteer. One Michigan-based company, MARS, even gives its employees a month’s sabbatical to pursue a volunteer project of their choice.

The payoff from volunteering isn’t just for those on the receiving end of the do-goodery—there’s evidence it may actually improve the health of the volunteer. A 2013 report, ‘Doing Good is Good for You,’ looked at surveys from 2,705 employees and found that 76% of them said volunteering made them feel healthier. Seventy-eight percent said it lowered their stress levels, while 94% said it improved their mood.

It’s good for employers too. The CECP report showed a strong positive correlation between companies’ volunteer initiatives and their bottom line. Companies that increased their volunteer efforts by at least 10% between 2012 and 2014 saw revenue growth rates rise about 9%, compared to just two percent for companies that didn’t up their volunteering.

“You can’t do anything without getting something for you,” Feltham says, acknowledging the payoff volunteering has for her company. “Do we get any monetary value? No. Does it cost us money? Oh yeah. But it energizes me, it energizes the company, it builds a team.” It’s a sentiment supported by the 2013 report—81% of respondents said volunteering with co-workers strengthened their relationship at work.

Feltham is also attuned to the reality that consumers and clients are increasingly tapped into companies’ social responsibility records. According to Nielsen’s 2014 Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, 55% of consumers will dish out more money for products from companies “committed to positive social and environmental impact.” And the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 81% of consumers believe that it’s possible for a business to do things “that both increase profits and improve the economic and social condition in the community where it operates.”

At first, Feltham says employees were hesitant to take her up on her offer to skip work for volunteer gigs. Now, 12 years into the company, Feltham says volunteering is “rampant.” “It’s part of our culture,” she says. “If one person says they want to go to Ronald McDonald House to help out, all [of a] sudden we have a whole team there.” “

“My mantra is to lift as you climb,” she adds. “This is part of fulfilling that mantra.”

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What do you think of Stiris Research’s paid volunteer time policy? How does your company get involved in the community? Let us know by commenting below.

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