There are more than 50 people working at Nebraska Global, the software startup mothership and its offspring in the Haymarket.  

All of them spend part of their time on the employer's clock volunteering for a nonprofit group somewhere nearby: the Lincoln Children's Zoo, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Child Advocacy Center, TeamMates mentoring progam and others.

The goal is 10 percent, or half a day a week.

Not quite two years old, Nebraska Global already has made its mark nationally as a recognized leader among companies whose employees devote their skills, as opposed to cash, to those in their communities who need them.   

Many other local businesses offer talent, skills and generous financial support to a range of community nonprofits. If Nebraska Global is unique in its commitment, it is because the commitment was there when it started as part of its business plan and because the company is making a concerted effort to spread the practice among other businesses.  

A Billion + Change, a national campaign operated by the Points of Light Institute to promote the donation of professional skills for community purposes, recognizes the Nebraska software startup front and center on its web page, along with philanthropic heavyweights such as State Farm and Pfizer. 

When Steve Kiene, Doug Durham and Patrick Smith got Nebraska Global going, their first hire was Amanda Garner, director of community and public affairs. She organizes the donation of time and skills by employees, makes it a lot easier for them to do their volunteering and helps nonprofits that need help best take advantage of the donors' time and skills.

Garner refers to their "full-service, concierge volunteer program."

"If you are a bank, you have very specific hours and you have to have people in the teller windows, but we have a much more flexible work environment that allows people to go out at 10 to noon and work at the zoo," Garner said. "It doesn't mean that other businesses that don't do it the way we do it are any less. 

"Doug, Steve and Patrick wanted it to be a part of who we are from day one," Garner said. "Doing it from day one has made it a lot easier. We got a lot of great resources from other companies -- such as Lincoln Industries -- in how to recognize employees, a corporate volunteer council.  If we have a much higher participation level than other companies, it is because we have the benefit of having founders who thought about it beforehand."

As a rule, startups don't have a lot of extra cash to throw around, and there also are sound and savvy business reasons to have your software engineers playing video games with the kids from Cedars Home for Children. 

"I like to find things that are 1+1=3," said Kiene, the managing principal of Nebraska Global. Doing good for community agencies not only helps the nonprofit, but also gives the software engineer a creative break from the intensity of handling computer code, builds leadership and teamwork, and inspires creativity and problem-solving, Kiene and Garner said.

"I think by having people spend time doing this, they're actually more productive at work," he said.  "We want to develop leaders -- get them out mentoring -- they'll be better leaders sooner."

Garner described the commitment as "a very thrifty way" of achieving some less apparent goals. 

"(It) helps us retain them," she said. "This is a very competitive business. There are more jobs than software engineers.  Offering them chances to get out of the office and spend time with people they work with does help them. It builds connections to the community and gives them a break."

There are longer-term and broader community and business benefits, too, in Kiene's view. 

"When there are tough financial times, the services most needed are the first to go," said Kiene. "It can't be just the government taking care of things. Businesses have to help the community, too. Making the community stronger makes businesses stronger."

Personally, Kiene acknowledged his own compensation from helping kids in danger, and wants Nebraska Global, a small and new company, to be a good example. 

"If we can inspire a business of 500 (employees) to do the same," he said, "now we're making a difference. I don't want another award, I want a bigger business to blow us away." 

He'd also like Nebraska Global to be a resource for smaller businesses to learn how to do the same.

If there is anything truly cunning about Nebraska Global's strategy, it would have to be Garner's attention to the "Moms Audience."

Nebraska Global gets a fair amount of attention on its Facebook page from mothers, mothers-in-law and females over the age of 45 who follow the company that employs their loved ones. 

Garner wants them to spread the word about Nebraska Global and its good works, and appears to be succeeding, given the attention the young company has received in its first couple of years.

"I so want to give those moms and grandmas something to brag about to their friends," she said. "We have a pretty loyal club out there. It becomes our best recruiting mechanism. We're in a sea of thousands, but when you talk to grandmas who want their grandchildren to come back ..."

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Reach Richard Piersol at 402-473-7241 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com.


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