Self-made businessman Dave Lindsey has motivated thousands of his workers and their families to take part in international community service projects – and thousands more from other companies to serve their own communities.
Lindsey, of Indianapolis, says people were born to serve, and that businesses – as groups of people – should do the same. In 1998, Lindsey founded a small home services company, DEFENDER Direct, which he built into a thriving national corporation with more than 2,000 employees. Over the years, Lindsey has fostered a spirit of volunteer service, by offering a variety of employee incentives and creating the nonprofit Companies With a Mission.
Since 2007, DEFENDER employees have traveled to Mexico and other countries to help build houses in poor communities through Homes of Hope, a program of Youth With a Mission. More than 5,000 employees have worked on Homes of Hope builds, and this year DEFENDER celebrated completion of its 200th house. Lindsey, his wife, Jess, and their children have personally participated in 11 home builds.
In 2011, Lindsey launched the Super Service Challenge, a program that allowed DEFENDER employees to form teams and compete through volunteer work for a share of $1 million in prize money, awarded to charities chosen by the winning teams. The competition proved so popular that Companies With a Mission eventually opened it to companies nationwide. The three-month Super Service Challenge last year attracted the support of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose foundation partnered with Companies With a Mission.
In three years, more than 15,000 employees from more than 1,000 companies have performed 100,000 hours of volunteer service for 1,200 charities through the competition, and $3.1 million has been awarded to the charities of winning teams. Winners are chosen by an independent panel and public voting.
Lindsey believes that DEFENDER benefits from its own volunteer service program. His company motto is, “Businesses don’t grow, people do!” and he believes the money and time invested in service comes back to the company tenfold through the growth and development of its employees. He sees the Super Service Challenge as particularly valuable to the company culture.
“Empowering employees to choose where they wanted to serve, we encountered a shift from a giving company to a company of givers,” says Lindsey.
DEFENDER employees are offered four paid “giving days” per year for volunteer work in addition to their standard paid time off, and Lindsey estimates that 90 percent of his employees have taken the opportunity to volunteer.
Lindsey says that of all the charitable missions in which he has participated – including creating a special program at the Indianapolis Boys Club Girls Club, volunteering with his family at an orphanage in Uganda and traveling with his family to Taiwan as part of a program to educate diabetic children – his favorite has been working on home builds.
“Everyone needs to do it,” he says. “The experience will change your heart, your kids’ hearts and your family’s vision of the world.”