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Volunteering at Etsy: A Celebration of Connection

Aug 21, 2015

by Laura Zax

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Etsy is built on and of communities, from the creative entrepreneurs and shoppers who make up our marketplace to the manufacturers who help sellers grow to our peers and partners around the world. Without them, we wouldn’t exist.

We are also, of course, a part of our geographic communities — that is, the cities and towns where Etsy offices operate and Etsy employees go about their day-to-day lives. And we’re always looking for ways to deepen our employees’ connections to the places where we have a presence.

That’s the impetus behind our Volunteer Time Off policy, which, as the name suggests, offers every employee paid time off to volunteer. Last year, Etsy employees spent nearly 900 work hours away from their desks and out in their communities.

Whether teaching kids to code or the elderly to craft, Etsy employees use their time to volunteer with organizations they’re passionate about. This summer Diane Hu, a data scientist at Etsy, fostered a relationship with the Gowanus House Art Collective, a burgeoning organization serving a housing development in Brooklyn. A photographer on the side, Hu helped teach a photography workshop to kids from the housing project just a hop skip and jump away from Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters. In an email to all Etsy employees, she recruited ten more Etsians to teach their own workshops.

“When I sent out the email, I was worried it would be seen as distracting people at work” she said, laughing. Instead, she received an email from Etsy’s Values & Impact team offering to cover the cost of supplies. “It’s nice to work in an environment where they’re not just neutral about employees getting involved in the community, they encourage it.”

While Etsy employees, unsurprisingly, tend to be crafty and often enjoy expressing that through volunteerism, they also leverage their professional skills for impact. Our Seller Development team recently took time out of their annual offsite to volunteer their unique skill set — educating Etsy’s community of 1.5 million active sellers in small business best practices — to clients of Start Small Think Big, an area organization that helps low-income individuals build thriving businesses.

“I really liked the questions that they asked,” said one participating small business owner. “It made me think about my business in more depth. Normally these clinics are more glitz and glam, but this was more nitty gritty.”

When it came time to celebrate Etsy’s 10th anniversary this June, it was a no-brainer that we would devote the day to volunteering in the neighborhoods our nine global offices call home.   

Throughout the month, most Etsy employees around the world participated. Activities ranged from leading craft and entrepreneurship workshops for residents at a domestic violence shelter near our offices in Hudson, New York to working with LGBTQ seniors to create signs for the San Francisco Pride Celebration & Parade. Remote employees joined in by contributing to pro-bono consulting projects.  

The core of our work in Brooklyn, where nearly 300 employees contributed over 600 hours in a single day,  was with one of our long-time partners, Red Hook Community Farm. Over the last four years, the farm has processed over 25,000 pounds of compost from our Brooklyn headquarters, which has been integral in helping us meet our ecological goals. In turn, the work we did on our 10th anniversary — constructing foundations of gravity irrigation tanks, turning 30 tons of compost, and readying the farm for farmer’s market season — helped the farm reach their goals for the year. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that cements our roots in our neighborhood.

We continue to explore more ways to deepen our connections to our community. Ultimately, our community is online and offline — from the people who work in our offices every day to the local businesses that support us to our local communities and our global marketplace. We aim to bring all of theses groups into the conversation, building from their experience and finding new ways to have an impact.

Learn more about the ways we connect to all the communities in our ecosystem in our 2014 Progress Report.