Last October, when a massive pine beetle infestation in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, forced the U.S. Forest Service to start clear-cutting dead and dying trees, SmartWool (#18) saw an opportunity for one of their biannual Serve-A-Palooza days. Twenty employees hit the woods, sawed and chopped like mad, and delivered bundles of firewood to families in need. "It was an awesome, emotional day," says sales rep Erin di Sanpi, who headed up the project. Workers there and at parent company Timberland (#31) are allowed 40 hours a year to volunteer. Marketing production manager Andrew Bisbee spent his time with a group cutting a new mountain-bike traila project that offered a little payback. "Yeah," he admits, "we reaped the benefit."
As smart business leaders know, this type of community service can inspire innovation and teamwork. "We're passionate about our jobs, but they can dominate your life," says Jon Harris, a development director at the DREAM Program (#14), a nonprofit mentoring program that serves young people in Vermont. Staffers get two paid volunteer hours a week, which they spend as EMTs, coaches, or advisers at other organizations. "When we volunteer together, there's a contagious energy," says Harris. Rally Software (#6) has seen similar enthusiasm. They ask their employees to dedicate one percent of their paid work time to volunteering. In 2009, 62 Rally employees contributed a whopping 2,300 hours. Not surprisingly, these companies tend to attract altruistic people. "It's probably one of the hiring filters here," says SmartWool's di Sanpi. "Many of us are motivated to surpass the 40 volunteer hours on our own time. You don't have to push to get us out the door."