Now and then, we like to shine a spotlight on a company who is doing employee volunteering well and is experiencing the tangible benefits that a robust program has to offer. Timberland is one such company.

Skin in The Game

2012 marks the 20th anniversary of Timberland’s Path of Service™ program that gives employees paid time off to serve in their communities.  In 2011, Timberland was able to boast that 79% of their employees volunteered through this program.   If you know the world of employee volunteering, that’s a pretty staggering number.

So, how did they get there?  Well, 40 hours of paid time off doesn’t hurt.   Yes, that’s right.  Timberland has boldly put their money where their mouth is by offering employees not a half day, not a full day, but a full week of paid time off to volunteer, placing them in a select group of corporate citizens willing to put real skin in the game.  Employees can use these hours at their discretion, whether all at once, or intermittently throughout the year.  They are also free to apply them to their own personal causes.

Additionally, Timberland sees the value of appointing internal champions who provide ready-made events that employees can draft behind without extra hassle.  Like many companies whose employees are busy and struggle to find time to volunteer, Timberland understands the importance of spoon-feeding opportunities, such that employees can simply show up and serve in a fun and interactive environment.  The spark behind organizing these events, and engaging employees to participate, is each location’s designated “Global Steward.” These catalytic agents are charged with making volunteering more accessible to employees along with advancing Timberland’s entire CSR agenda in their location.

On a much larger scale, Timberland has long had two signature events on their calendar that make a bigger splash:  Earth Day and Serv-a-palooza.  These are days when Timberland employees across the globe put their values into action by dedicating a whole day to local service. These larger, corporate sponsored events are dedicated to “community greening,” a cause aligned with their brand.  Typical activities include maintaining nature trails, creating and expanding community parks, restoring playgrounds, cleaning up beaches, removing invasive plant species, bagging garbage and recyclables, and cleaning up elementary schools.

Is It Worth It?

So, what’s benefit of all this?  Has Timberland experienced tangible business benefits as a result of investing in a program of this scale?

I recently had the opportunity to interview Atlanta McIlwraith, Timberland’s Senior Manager of Community Engagement.   From her perspective, the answer is a resounding yes!  As she says, “We don’t necessarily have hard, quantitative metrics, but we have a surplus of anecdotal evidence and it’s something we know in our experience . . . And, we are looking at ways to develop those metrics.”

Here are a few of the business benefits we discussed:

1)   Enriched business relationships with retailers.  Timberland understands that volunteering is a pro-social behavior that bonds people together more profoundly than attending a ball game or having drinks.  Consequently, they invite employee family members, business partners, retailers, consumers, and community members to participate in their volunteer events.  In fact, Timberland’s PRO division  includes a service event as a key component of all their “retailer summits,” allowing Timberland employees serve alongside business partners and customers.  In 2011, 40% of the volunteers at Timberland-sponsored service events worldwide were business partners and customers.  McIlwraith notes, “It’s definitely the sense of the people who drive the sales part of our business that it makes a difference. They believe it differentiates us from other brands and that it provides a richer kind of relationship than what is possible through your typical sales conversation.”

2)   Increased capacity to attract and retain employees.  “Since Timberland has been offering employees paid time to volunteer for 20 years, service has become a key part of our culture,” says McIlwraith.  In Timberland’s global employee survey of 2009, 67% of the participants responded with “agree” or “strongly agree” to this statement, “Timberland’s commitment to the community and its Path of Service program play a strong role in my work at Timberland.”  That 67% is not a bogus number since 83% of their employees completed the survey.

3)   Enhanced relationship with the community and with consumers.  While Timberland has always invited consumers to volunteer alongside employees, they are now beginning to implement more intentional recruitment practices, as inspired by their Taiwan location. Timberland Taiwan entices their most engaged consumers with special privileges: consumers who spend 7,000 Taiwan New Dollars (about $237 US) become Club Members and those who spend 10,000 Taiwan New Dollars (about $338 US) become VIPs. Both groups receive personal invitations to participate in monthly Timberland-sponsored service events.  Moreover, consumers who serve 24 hours throughout the year at Timberland events receive a free Timberland® T-shirt, while those who serve 40 hours receive a free pair of Earthkeeper boots and a Timberland CSR teddy bear. McIlwraith reports that the Taiwan location is experiencing a great response to these intentional efforts, and as a result, Timberland is exploring potential avenues for consumer engagement in other locations.

Metrics

The Taiwan case study also gave Timberland a way to construct some hard metrics that could be applicable globally.  Since the VIP and Club programs make it easy for Timberland to track purchasing behavior, they can now make a comparison between members who have volunteered with Timberland and members who have not to see if there is any kind of purchasing increase.  This method is a little tricky in that Timberland products are not a daily, or even monthly, purchase like Starbucks or McDonald’s, but it is one innovative way they are seeking to get hard data on volunteering’s impact on the bottom line.

Thanks to Brent Croxton, Associate Partner at Realized Worth, for researching and writing this case study. Brent can be contacted at brentcroxton@realizedworth.com or by commenting below. Follow him on Twitter at @brentcroxton.

 

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