ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — It can be said that Rock Island County
is the house that Deere built.
While the county doesn’t rely solely on John Deere for
employment and economic benefits, the familiar name and the gold and green is an
undeniable pillar of the county and the local communities of the Quad Cities
From John Deere Road to the John Deere Classic to the
buildings that bear the stamp of the maker of the steel plow, this is Deere
But John Deere is more than steel farm, forestry, lawn and
agriculture equipment. It is a people company, a company that is branded by the
name of the man who started the global equipment giant.
People throughout Rock Island County have a strong
connection to John Deere — whether it’s a farm tractor, lawnmower or
bulldozer they operate, whether it’s their job at Harvester Works or as a John
Deere retiree, the human connection to Rock Island County is strong.
Nowhere is it stronger or more connected to Rock Island
County than through the John Deere employee volunteerism initiative.
“It’s rewarding,” Joan Conrad said.
Conrad is the manager of communications and training for
worldwide supply management at John Deere. She’s a 35-year employee of John
Deere, and she volunteers with Living Lands and Waters, the organization started
in 1998 by local resident Chad Pregracke to clean up the Mississippi River in
the Quad Cities and to highlight water pollution.
Since its founding, the organization has grown to more than
70,000 volunteers who each year clean up the shorelines of the Mississippi, Ohio
and Illinois rivers, as well as tributaries. The group also works to educate
young people about water pollution, water quality and education.
“You feel like you’ve made a difference in your community,
and I know we have,” Conrad said.
She and some 30 to 40 fellow Deere employees volunteer each
year with the Living Lands and Waters cleanup of the shoreline along the
Mississippi River in the Quad Cities.
“That is a really good organization, and they have people
who are very, very, very devoted to their mission. You feel like you’ve done
something good for the community and for the environment,” Conrad said.
That was one of the things that Sam Allen, John Deere
chairman and CEO, may have been hoping for when he launched the Deere
In September 2011, Allen and a group of 20 senior leaders
from the company’s U.S. and India offices traveled to northwest India, north of
the tourist mecca of Udaipur, to work with small farmers and help them harvest
“That was his way to show our employees that if he can take
a week off to volunteer, that our employees certainly can do the same,” said Deb
Wirth, manager of the John Deere global volunteerism program.
The move to emphasizing and encouraging more volunteerism
among employees was the result of research done by a project team at John Deere,
“They investigated whether we should offer volunteerism as
an employee benefit,” she said.
The findings were positive — encouraging volunteerism would
benefit not just the company, but employees and their work. In other words,
doing good made good business sense.
“They came back with a recommendation that this would
definitely help us drive employee engagement, it would help us improve the
communities where we have John Deere locations and it would help our employees
learn new skills and share the skills they have,” Wirth said.
Conrad said the volunteerism program has done just that.
“When our employees come back from the annual United Way Day
of Caring, they’re pumped up and it gives an extra burst of enthusiasm for their
work,” she said.
Skills To Share
Cheryl Ashcraft is the manager of the John Deere Foundation
and a volunteer with the River Bend Foodbank. She also volunteers at road races,
5K races, that benefit local charities and organizations.
Ashcraft said that with the variety of jobs at John Deere,
employees have many talents to share in volunteering.
“You have your people who are doers and those who look for
the opportunity to do something in the community and support organizations that
are in need, and I think our talent here within Deere & Company, we have somebody
who has a talent for virtually everything and so, based on a skill set that an
organization might need, we could probably fill just about any need they could
come up with,” she said.
Once Allen’s directive to establish an employee volunteerism
program was set, the company developed an enterprise philosophy for the program
“It basically says we agree to give our employees paid time
off to volunteer in their communities as long as they have their manager’s
approval,” Wirth said.
Employees can take paid time off to volunteer with groups
and organizations that align with the company’s philanthropic goals of solutions
for world hunger, community development and education.
They also can take eight hours per year personal paid time
off to volunteer with groups or organizations where they have a personal
passion. Wirth said that may be with a child’s school or daycare or membership
group, such as Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts.
The Internet-based volunteer tool program allows employees
to record their volunteer hours, and it also allows employees to enter volunteer
events and search for events to volunteer with in their local areas and around
“We have 30 to 40 John Deere locations in the United States,
and each of those units is trying to support the nonprofits in their specific
community. When the nonprofits reach out to them and say we need volunteers,
those are the events we load in the tool,” Wirth said.
At the Rock Island County locations, Wirth said 87 employees
have logged 15,150 volunteer hours from Feb. 1, 2012, when the tool was
launched, to Jan. 17, 2014. Employees are not required to log their time in the
tool, she said, so it’s likely that those numbers are larger.
“Some people are very personal about where they volunteer
and they don’t enter their hours,” she said.
There is no limit to how much paid time off the employees
can take in a year, but they need to have their manager’s approval. The
organizations and groups have to be registered as 501c3 nonprofits and must
align to the three philanthropic goals.
Employees at the Rock Island County sites have volunteered
at 112 nonprofits in the county. The nonprofits are as varied as the skills of
the employees volunteering — Rock Island County 4-H, Rock Island County Farm
Bureau, River Bend Foodbank, Habitat for Humanity, Skip-a-Long Daycare and Child
Development Services, Boys and Girls Club, Living Lands and Waters and Arrowhead
Ranch are a few.
The volunteerism also includes the Dollars for Doers grant
“If you, as an employee, volunteer 40 or more hours in our
fiscal year with the same nonprofit, you can apply for a Dollars for Doers
grant,” Wirth said.
If the application meets guidelines and is approved, the
John Deere Foundation writes a check for $1,000 to the nonprofit on behalf of
the employee. The limit is one grant per employee per year, but if several
employees volunteer at the same nonprofit, they can each apply for a grant,
“If there were 10 of us who volunteered at the same
organization in the same year, the organization could, potentially, get
$10,000,” she said.
Good, Feels Good
For those who volunteer, there’s a good feeling that comes
not just from helping, but in working for a company that is so firmly committed
to being a good neighbor.
“I think by making the statement and formalizing the fact
that we do have a philosophy for volunteerism around the world, that commitment
in itself confirms the type of company this is to work for,” Ashcraft said.
“It’s not all about the mighty dollar. It’s about the
greater good. It’s about your employee satisfaction,” she said.
The program also helps to retain and recruit the top talent
— workers who expect more from their employer than 9 to 5 and a paycheck. The program
further benefits Rock Island County and the area by helping to bring the best
and the brightest to live, work and establish families in the Quad Cities.
“If you want good talent, you need to be focused on what it
is to maintain and recruit good talent. Good citizenship is a big part of that
in today’s society,” Ashcraft said.
Wirth agreed that the program also serves as a great
“It is very highly regarded by people we are trying to
recruit to work for us. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company that lets you
have paid time off to volunteer in the community?” she said.
“Companies that have strong volunteerism programs attract
employees more readily. It’s something that potential employees like, and it
also helps to retain employees and build teamwork and enthusiasm and
productivity, it supplies employee engagement,” Conrad said.
It also helps build business relationships. Conrad said an
offer made to a supplier who wanted to work more with Deere and who also was
interested in preserving and protecting oceans and marine life led to employees
from the supplier’s company working with Deere employees on the annual
Mississippi River cleanup.
Wirth said the program further extends the connection
between John Deere and Rock Island County and the local community.
“It’s so good for our employees to be able to share the
talents they already have with their community to make our communities a better
place to live. Our employees have such great skills and talents, what better
than to share those with nonprofits to help them raise and achieve their
mission?” she said.
It’s hard not to notice one of the largest neighbors in Rock
Island County and the Quad Cities, but Wirth said the company is dedicated to
being a good neighbor on every level.
“We have an obligation to the communities where we have our
John Deere locations to be the best neighbor, not only as a company, but by
sharing our employees, as well,” she said.