Volunteers Wanted: Why Samsung Gives Days Off for Giving Back

By James Tehrani

May. 12, 2016

Ann Woo, Samsung Electronics America’s senior director of citizenship works with children at the Taft Early Childhood Center in East Harlem, New York, in support of the Children’s Aid Society and its mission to help children in poverty succeed and thrive, during the company’s fourth semiannual Day of Service on May 13.
Photo courtesy of Samsung Electronics America

Volunteering is a choice, but it’s a choice many people and companies continue to make.

In fact, nearly 63 million people volunteered at least once between September 2014 and September 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the past couple of years, my family and I have walked in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night walk. We’ve raised money for the organization and had a wonderful time and experience joining hundreds of others walking in a sea of red, yellow and white lanterns, which recognizes the supporters, survivors and those people who did not, respectively. We also donated our time last year to Feed My Starving Children putting together bags of food to send to the young people in need in Africa. Both were and are rewarding experiences.

Many companies looking to boost engagement have turned to volunteering. This is something that’s especially important to the millennial generation in the workforce. The 2015 Cone Communications “Millennial CSR Study,” short for corporate social responsibility, found that 91 percent of millennials are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, 50 percent have volunteered and 62 percent said they would consider taking less money to work for a socially responsible company.

Since 2014, Samsung Electronics America Inc. has tapped into today’s volunteering culture by offering a Day of Service, initially once that first year and now twice a year, where the whole company closes to allow workers to volunteer their time as a team at various locations. I spoke with Ann Woo, Samsung’s senior director of citizenship before the latest Day of Service on May 13 to see why Samsung thinks volunteering is so important and how it boosts engagement.

An edited transcript follows.Ann Woo Samsung

Whatever Works: Where did the idea come from to close all the offices on May 13 for volunteering?

Ann Woo: Back in 2014, we had been doing corporate programs in regards to giving back to the communities for some time. And we had a lot of interest on behalf of our employees who wanted to find out ways to give back. We had volunteers and corporate programs, of course, for years prior, but we felt that this was an effort that really was started from the interest of the employees, but really meant to make a commitment on the part of the company and to really donate our time on behalf of Samsung.

WW: So everyone from a certain location goes to the same place to volunteer?

Woo: This coming Friday [May 13] we’ll have over 4,000 volunteers across the country that will work with over 50 organizations across the country. When we close business operations, we’re closing offices in New Jersey, New York, Texas and California and so on, so we actually aren’t able to put 4,000 folks with one organization. That’s a lot for the day. So we have a variety of organizations that are largely focused on our corporate Hope for Children initiative, but really have lots of different partners as part of it.

WW: Are there volunteer opportunities throughout the year or just on these days?

Woo: The two Days of Service we have each calendar year. It’s really this joint effort on the part of all of our employees to [volunteer] together as a team as one company to give back. Throughout the course of the year though, there are other opportunities as well. Since last year, Samsung has also instituted something called VTO, or volunteer time off, where any full-time employee can have up to eight hours of time off to go and do community service. … So with each Day of Service, we’ve gotten employees to try out a different organization, a different interest area, find out what they really care about, and they form a connection with them on Day of Service and they go back and donate their time. We also have donated personal funds as well as part of it.

WW: Does Samsung match donations?

Woo: We do. That’s part of one of the programs we’ve also instituted in the company as well. Samsung does do a corporate match up to $1,000 per calendar year for every full-time employee in North America.

WW: How has this affected Samsung’s culture? And how do you measure that?

Woo: One of the things that we really identified where Day of Service can be such a benefit is to really complement and galvanize the employee base together to really create positive change, and so the two moments of the year where we do Day of Service, that’s very meaningful. But also it’s infused itself into the workforce culture in such a meaningful and special way. One of the things I personally really love is, when you meet any colleague at any company in the hallway or in the elevator, it’s so easy to say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? What are you working on?’ but about two, three weeks before Day of Service, the conversation changes to say, ‘Hey, where are you doing your Day of Service activity? Who are you partnering with? What was your last experience like?’ So we know it’s definitely infused in the culture at the company. … We also do employee surveys where we’ve seen data that tells us that they’re understanding who we are as a company, and how we give back has increased as a result of Day of Service. We have numbers that show it, but we also know qualitatively just from the conversations and the tone.

WW: And where will you be volunteering?

Woo: I’m excited. I have the special privilege of volunteering at three places because I want to get the most [out] of the day. I will be starting out at Children’s Aid Society in Manhattan Taft early childhood school. I’ll be with the CEO [Gregory Lee], and we’ll be reading to some elementary school classes. Then I’ll be coming to our New Jersey office and working with an organization we’ve worked with since last year called Only Make Believe. … So this Friday we’ll be making costumes — capes and hats and a lot of fun costumes to help their program. It’s creative. We’ll have a lot of children from our employees coming to be part of the day as well, and we’re pretty excited about that because we know they, too, want to give, and this is a fun family activity for them. And then I’ll end the day back in Manhattan at our New York City office … and I will be working with Free Arts NYC, which is a program that creates art projects for young kids.

WW: And then Saturday you’ll be taking a long nap.

Woo: [Laughs] Yes, I think so, once I get all that paint and glue out of my hair.

James Tehrani is the director of content strategy at FlexJobs.

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