More businesses encourage staff to be volunteers


The ways in which businesses involve themselves in their communities is changing rapidly.

Traditionally, large corporations have channeled the majority of their community charitable efforts through their corporate giving office or a giving committee.

A recent survey of more than 450 corporations by The Points of Light Foundation reaffirmed the degree to which corporate involvement in their communities has changed. About 92 percent of the companies surveyed encourage employee volunteerism, with some 68 percent providing release time to employees for these activities.

One of the more significant problems related to corporate volunteerism is reflected in another survey finding. Only a third of the companies kept track of volunteer hours served and information gathering was primarily anecdotal.

My experience is that this is a real barrier to the expansion of corporate volunteer efforts.

Why shouldn't a corporation's community involvement program be under the same scrutiny as other areas of operations?

This is more of an enigma to me when you consider that half of all companies surveyed said that community service is part of their corporate mission statement. One would hope that those same mission statements contain some language about making a profit -- a reasonably important part of business that certainly receives intense scrutiny.

The foundation report also mentions that 95 percent of companies believe volunteerism programs help their public image, 94 percent state that their programs make for healthier communities, and 77 percent feel they contribute to achieving strategic goals. But most businesses report such benefits are hard to measure.

While conducting research for the development of an innovative volunteerism program for a corporate client in Chicago, our company came across the community involvement program of Federal Express.

The delivery giant's program illustrates one of the newer trends in corporate community efforts. It has organized its giving program along the lines of eight Corporate Neighbor Teams, which operate in its Memphis, Tenn., headquarters and in primary locations nationwide.

The team approach to volunteerism has helped reinforce teamwork throughout all operations, according to Larry Smith, manager of community relations.

Take, for example, the food drives that FedEx has done for the past several years. In 1992, company employees collected 30,000 food point items for the local food bank. Food points are calculated based on nutritional content and food group balance.

"It really wasn't well organized," reports Smith. "We knew we hadn't done what we were capable of doing."

In 1993, the Civic Affairs Team organized the event. The same 300 employees collected an astounding 877,000 food point items, nearly the entire city goal of 1 million points.

"The team really took pride in what it was doing. We became real players in the community, making a real difference," says Smith.

Teams are also afforded training opportunities, which gives lower-level employees a chance to enter the company's leadership training program.

"There's a definite correlation between the community involvement efforts of our employees and our morale," reports Smith. There is a strong link between what we do in the community and what we do in the workplace. I believe that when the two are connected, everyone wins."

Federal Express also evaluates every community project in which the company participates, from both the employee and nonprofit perspective. Everyone involved fills out an evaluation card, and interviews are held to maximize future efforts.

Increasingly, corporate charitable efforts are linked to the human resources of the company.

With attention to coordinating these efforts, every business could improve the effectiveness of their programs and the benefits that both the business and the community derive.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore, Md. 21202; (410) 783-5100

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