JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Businesses depend on the community to survive, and they’re turning to an innovative way to show their thanks: volunteering.
“Volunteering is as valuable as donations are, and the number of local businesses promoting employees to volunteer is growing,” said Tim Walsworth, president of United Way of Southwest Colorado. “That is a big deal.”
“Our employees want to support local businesses and charities – that is what Alpine Bank is all about,”said Kris Erpestad, human resources administrative assistant for the bank.
Another prominent example is Mercury Payment Systems, which set its sights high last year with its “Mercury Gives” volunteer program – 6,512 hours, to correspond with Durango’s posted elevation.
The credit card-processing company was able to achieve its lofty goal, and so have many others.
The most common incentive is paying employees for the time they spend on community service, but some employers also offer prizes and other perks.
“Our employees are allowed up to three days, up to 24 hours to volunteer and get their regular rate of pay,” Alpine Bank’s Erpestad said.
The bank does not limit the organizations that employees can volunteer for, and many employees volunteer at schools where their children attend, Erpestad said.
“It is awesome that the bank is willing to offer us this kind of opportunity,” Erpestad said.
First National Bank of Durango also encourages its employees to volunteer.
“If an employee is involved in a volunteer activity during the regular working schedule, they’re still paid for that time,” said Mark Daigle, CEO of First National Bank. “If they volunteer after hours or weekends, we give them an hour off paid work time every hour they volunteer.”
As long as the employee volunteers for a nonprofit organization, First National Bank does not dictate where.
“We have a lot of employees that are specifically involved in something they are passionate about,” Daigle said.
Participating employees are entered in a drawing every month for tickets to local events, prizes and other benefits, Daigle said.
There were 376 employee volunteers from the five locations in Durango and Bayfield for 27 events sponsored by First National Bank, said Deborah Shuler, marketing coordinator for First National Bank.
“We have pretty close to 100 percent participation in the volunteer program,” Shuler said.
BP America Production in Durango has various programs focusing on employee philanthropy.
“It’s important to us that we are a good neighbor,” said Julie Levy, the BP America director of government and public affairs for the Rockies.
The employee matching program will match up to $5,000 that an employee raises or donates per year as well as compensating their volunteered time, Levy said.
BP also gave a major grant to Durango School District 9-R for all kindergarten through fifth-grade students to have a science-oriented field trip, Levy said.
And, under the “Fabric of America” program, each BP employee gets $300 to donate to a program of his or her choice, Levy said.
“BP deeply values being a part of the fabric of the communities that we operate in,” Levy, said.
Janice Owen, senior marketing communications manager for Mercury Payment Systems, said employees in the second year continued a lot of the things that they started the year before.
Mercury’s goal for this year, which will be approved by the committee later this month, will be a “considerably higher goal then last year, somewhere in the realm of 10,000 hours,” Owen said.
“Mercury has always had a really great company culture; a lot of individuals have always been committed to community service,” Owen said.
In all, the donation equated to 1 percent of total staff time worked, Owen said.
Between Durango and Denver, there are more than 100 nonprofit organizations that Mercury employees can choose from, Owen said.
The city is jumping on the volunteer bandwagon, as well, introducing a brand-new employee program.
“In the budget for 2012 there was an employee volunteer program. Under that program, employees can volunteer up to 16 hours of on-duty time to a local Durango nonprofit for compensation of their time,” city spokeswoman, Sherri Dugdale said.
The city operates some programs and facilities on mostly volunteer labor, but this year the community expressed a desire for a more “robust volunteer program,” Dugdale said.
The city volunteer program was created with leading by example as the main philosophy, Dugdale said.
The impact of the volunteer programs is noticeable, said Jeanie Berger, the membership and volunteer coordinator of the Durango Arts Center.
“We are a nonprofit organization, and we depend on volunteers to do a great deal of our business,” Berger said. “We wouldn’t be able to do all of the things we do without volunteers.
“We have probably on a fairly regular basis about 100 volunteers to take care of our programs and operations. During the fall, we have the arts festival, and that’s an even stronger need.”
Erpestad said giving isn’t just personally rewarding, it’s also good business.
“If it weren’t for the community, I don’t know if Alpine Bank would be here,” she said. “This is our way of paying back.”