Volunteering is part of our culture, but our annual Day of Service is one of the ways we demonstrate our commitment to our communities, get to know each other and have some fun. It’s the signature event of our employee volunteer program called Vertex Volunteers. This year marks the 11th year that Vertex colleagues across the company and all over the world have been stepping away from their desks to spend time in their communities – from science projects in local schools to building bed frames for children and distributing care packages to Marine Corps graduates. Our 2019 Day of Service spanned 14 countries with more than 1,200 employees contributing 4,400 volunteer hours to 79 organizations. What an incredible accomplishment by Vertexians!
I heard from our teams around the globe about the positive impacts of the day. For example, a team of volunteers in London volunteered at a day center, which is committed to improving the lives of older people by providing them with the opportunity to socialize and offering practical assistance. Jeremy Wilson, a financial planning and analysis manager based in the U.K., described it as a “fantastic opportunity to spend time with some of the more vulnerable members of our community who just wanted some company, a friend to talk to or someone to listen.” They enjoyed themselves so much they were invited back for the Christmas party. Our team in São Paolo volunteered with a homeless center; they cooked and served lunch, participated in recreational activities and distributed hygiene kits. They appreciated having the time to spend in their community. Another inspiring story I heard was from Jenna Braun who works on the patient advocacy team and is based in Boston. She volunteered at a STEM fair at Curtis Guild Elementary School in East Boston and two students made a big impact on her — one was a child who had just arrived from another country and had never been in a school before and one was a child living with autism. She was amazed by how she could connect with both of these children through the power of creation and without any verbal communication.
"The thing that I like most about what we're doing is that it's not about money and it's not about giving away things – it's about us giving our time and there is nothing more precious than giving our time."
You might wonder how we pull this off, and how we manage to make it bigger, better and more impactful every year. Well first, it’s important to us as a company and a community, so we make it a priority. The success of our Day of Service every year is directly attributable to the incredible amount of planning, collaboration and teamwork that happens behind the scenes, usually starting 10-12 months in advance. Here are some of the key aspects that we think about each year, and what we’re already thinking about for 2020.
Pick a date. You might think this is the easy part, but many things that appear easy on the surface are not actually that easy! Globally, we are contending with various school calendars, the weather and the schedules of nearly 2,500 people. Early fall tends to work well for us because school is in session (we do a lot of work with local schools) and the weather isn’t usually too cold for outdoor projects.
Set a (realistic) goal. Setting a goal gives us something tangible to work towards and helps with motivation and excitement as the planning gets underway. This year we set a goal for ourselves of 4,000 volunteer hours and we exceeded it. In fact, 46% of eligible employees participated, exceeding the 33% average corporate volunteer participation rate.
Listen to feedback. All our volunteers receive a survey to provide feedback. We ask questions about the specific project as well as questions about impact, connection to the community and the opportunity to meet new colleagues and learn new skills. We review the results overall, but we also review the results by project. This helps us to plan projects for the next year.
Make it easy to sign up. We revamped our registration system two years ago and now we have a portal where volunteers can sign up for a project online or add their name to a wait list. There’s still room for improvement on the back end, but it’s easy for the volunteers which is more important than the back-end tracking and reports.
Plan for day-of logistics. There are t-shirts to distribute ahead of time. There are signs for each project. There are donuts in the cafeteria in the morning. There are questions about transportation. We plan for all of that. We also rely on internal champions (Team Leads) to lead the individual projects and we prep them with a lot of information in advance, so they feel prepared.
Keep the impact going. The Vertex Foundation provides employees who volunteer with $200 (or local equivalent) in “Donation for Doers” rewards. This keeps our momentum going and empowers employees to designate nonprofits to receive the donations.
Our annual Day of Service is not just another day. As Reshma Kewalramani, our Chief Medical Officer and incoming CEO, put it as she kicked off a project with City Year Boston, “The thing that I like most about what we’re doing is that it’s not about money and it’s not about giving away things — it’s about us giving our time and there is nothing more precious than giving our time.”