Maryland tech company pays employees to volunteer
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Volunteering is part of the job for employees of one Maryland technology firm.
Skyline Technology Solutions, based in Glen Burnie, Maryland, was given a Governor’s Service Award in October — but according to employees, the tech company has been a volunteering powerhouse for 14 years.
This company garnered so much attention because it offers employees on all corporate levels 40 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer with their charity, church or organization of choice, explained Jason Ross, Skyline vice president.
Nick Caleo, a computer-aided design technician with Skyline, said he was hired in June 2014, and when he blew through 40 hours of volunteering before the December turnover, he reached out to Janice Holsonbake, co-founder of the company, to get more involved in the humanitarian committee.
“It just reminded me, I’m able-bodied and willing to give back,” Caleo said. “Prior to Skyline, I hadn’t volunteered since high school.”
Skyline Technology Solutions provides the network for Maryland’s state government, manages information technology divisions and maintains network security for its customers, and sells in-house products like cameras that monitor traffic on state highways.
This year, between January and mid-November, Caleo said, the 240-person company had logged more than 1,400 hours of volunteering. Ross said plenty more were on the way, with the Salvation Army kicking into high gear for the holidays.
Last year, without counting leadership development and free communications classes the company offers to charitable organizations, Caleo said 127 Skyline employees had volunteered a combined total of 2,091 hours — costing the company an estimated $62,000 in wages.
The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, a national coalition established in 1999, publishes data every year on the national status of corporate giving.
Its 2018 edition showed that businesses with “on-company-time volunteering” — paid leave to participate in community service — increased the number of hours they volunteered, on average, by 26 percent between 2015 and 2017.
“It’s intuitive that employees will be more likely to volunteer and participate if they don’t have to sacrifice their personal time and if they can incorporate a sense of purpose at work through volunteering,” the report stated.
Kathryn Bartol, a longtime professor and chair of the management and organization department in the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, said a volunteering structure like Skyline’s is rare among businesses.
“Businesses decide they’re going to help some sort of charity ... and they get some of the employees to volunteer to do that, and they do that on company time,” Bartol said. “I think they’re more one-day type things.”
Bartol said businesses offering company time to volunteer had several benefits, including making their jobs more attractive than the competition, and fostering inter-departmental relationships between employees who participate.
“It’s a chance for the employees, for people in the company, to kind of engage with each other and sometimes break down silos,” Bartol said.
Ross, who said he’s worked with the company 12 years, said as far as he could tell, the volunteering program has been in place “since day one.”
He said Brian and Janice Holsonbake, founders of Skyline Technology Solutions, have always offered 40 hours of paid volunteering time as a gift — but the program has grown in scope and renown over the years. Now, volunteering hours can earn employees extra raffle tickets at the company’s annual Christmas party.
“We’ve grown the program so much that we actually have an internal committee, because there’s two aspects to how you can use your hours. There’s activities that we coordinate, Skyline coordinates ... or you can pick your own pursuits,” Ross said.
Coordinated activities are more the trend among other businesses, Bartol said, because it helps make their community service more visible.
“It’s more attractive for companies to do things that help them be helpful, and be seen as helpful in the community,” she said.
Ross said the Holsonbakes were inspired to provide this opportunity by their Christian beliefs. The founders permit their employees to use this paid time to go on local or foreign mission trips — and in a November interview with Capital News Service, Ross said Brian Holsonbake had just returned from taking a weeklong mission trip to Savannah, Georgia, with his church.
Caleo said he knows of other employees who have used their hours to go on mission trips to Ghana, and to orphanages in Haiti.
But the employees aren’t limited to religiously motivated charities. Caleo said almost anything, above the level of chaperoning a child’s school field trip, can count.
Caleo had a list of 18 groups Skyline employees had volunteered with, and he said even that wasn’t exhaustive. Some of the more well-known organizations listed included the Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, Maryland Food Bank, Operation Christmas Child and Susan G. Komen.
The company also cited involvement in programs that benefit the disabled, Johns Hopkins, veterans and senior dogs. They’ve even had an employee go volunteer on a Native American reservation.
Caleo echoed Bartol’s sentiment that volunteering has helped him meet other employees he normally wouldn’t have run into in day-to-day work.
He said in his first month, while volunteering at a Glen Burnie Bello Machre house for adults with learning disabilities, he met two people from separate teams.
“I’m a people-oriented person,” Caleo said. “I learned about Hayden — he’s a wrestling coach and he has kids, and Donnie has construction experience in his past — just hung out with these guys. Now, I’m walking down the hall, ‘Hey, Hayden.’ I know these guys.”
Ross said besides the reward of seeing how their service affects a community, he also enjoys Skyline’s humanitarian efforts for the chance to be outdoors during the work week.
He especially enjoys volunteering at Sarah’s House, a Catholic charity near Fort Meade that shelters homeless families.
“I’ve run business development for the past couple years, so as sort of a team-building opportunity we’ll set a day, and ... we’ll go in and landscape all around those buildings,” Ross said. “When they come home at the end of the day . they certainly feel a lot better.”