Encouraging remote employees to give back: lessons from DonorsChoose & Ruby

They say it takes a village to raise a child. That village includes not only parents, neighbors, and teachers, but also local businesses.  

When I look back on my own childhood, small businesses played a tremendous role in my upbringing. My love for DIY projects began with trips to my locally-owned hardware store with my dad. My prolific reading habits are the direct result of a contest sponsored by the town credit union. I was able to travel as part of a competitive soccer league as a tween due to the generosity of several local restaurants covering my fees. And how can I forget the annual school carnivals with booths paid for and staffed by neighborhood dentists, salons, bike shops, toy stores, and others? 

No doubt about it: businesses are intricately tied to our communities and can make serious, lasting differences in community members’ lives. That’s why, for so many businesses, giving back is embedded in our missions—but turning words into action isn’t always easy.  

How do we businesses create an impact in a way that’s authentic and sustainable? How do you make it easy for everyone at your organization to get involved?  

And how do you coordinate giving back when everyone is working remotely?

After all, the “village” these days isn’t necessarily a physical place, but a network of people and organizations connected digitally. 

We think about these questions all the time at Ruby, and we want to share a few things we learned from a successful charitable initiative our Rubys came together to create earlier this year. 

The DonorsChoose Challenge 

Ruby encourages civic participation in several ways through our Ruby Corps initiative, including paid volunteer hours, joint projects with a dozen-plus organizations such as Make-A-Wish and the Oregon Food Bank, as well as donation matching for employees.  

Historically, most of these activities have relied on in-person interactions. Our challenge during the pandemic was how we could continue to support this critical part of our culture when the whole company is remote. 

The answer: take our collective love of community building and amplify it with a digital tool! 

At the beginning of each year, Ruby hosts our annual “Connections” event, bringing together all our employees to share plans for the year, reconnect with our vision and mission, as well as celebrate our culture. 

In advance of our 2021 event—knowing it would be entirely virtual—we sought a solution for supporting our local communities while keeping our team staff. A member of our graphic design team pitched the idea of partnering with DonorsChoose—a website that connects donors with teachers’ projects in their local area. 

Our Ruby Corps team loved the idea and set a goal of $1,000 in donations to fund projects in Portland and Kansas City. Projects were selected based on their proximity to our office locations and connection to our philanthropic areas of focus—education, equity, mental health, art, and literacy.  

Bringing the challenge home 

In true Ruby fashion, our team went above and beyond , generously donating more than $3,532 across 10 classroom projects over the four-day event. 

The DonorsChoose digital platform enabled us to safely connect with one another and celebrate our communities, even though we haven’t seen each other face-to-face in over a year. 

How to launch a similar giving effort at your business 

Partnering with a digital platform focused on supporting nonprofit projects, such as DonorsChoose, is a fantastic way to engage your employees virtually while fulfilling your mission of community building. Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling: 

Discuss your goals. 

In our case, we knew we wanted to fund several small projects across multiple cities and have a measurable impact, making DonorsChoose an ideal platform. The website lists projects across the U.S. with small goal amounts ($100–$1,000).  

Connect the project to your culture and values. 

Ruby has a history with online donations due to our employee donation matching program, so the DonorsChoose challenge was a natural extension of our culture. Additionally, we were able to filter projects based on their subject area through the platform. 

Build excitement! 

Each morning of the event, our Employee Experience team introduced the projects, explaining why each was chosen and sharing a quote from the teacher who submitted the project. They broke down the cost per Ruby to make the goal seem attainable and followed up at the end of each day with progress. 

Most importantly, community building should be driven by your employees. Select a project that is important to them and then get out of the way! 

This is just one way businesses can engage their employees in giving back from anywhere. We look forward to growing our impact and expanding our charitable efforts in the months and years ahead. 

How does your company support your community and make the world a better place? 

Share your story with us—and find more ideas for building connections with your customers, employees, and community—on Ruby’s FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, or Instagram