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Companies See Volunteering As a Benefit

Resource type: News

Associated Press Online |

By Vinnee Tong

NEW YORK–Colleen Bramhall’s friends used to think she’d sold out by going to work for Accenture as a consultant after college. Now she says they’re jealous.

She’s been to Sri Lanka and South Africa as a participant in Accenture Development Partnerships, a program that sends employees to work on nonprofit projects in developing countries.

“I used to be the one that was working for the man, the one with the corporate job that was the sellout, and now I think my friends are looking at Accenture in a different light, as a sort of corporate citizen,” she said.

As more employees see volunteer work as a way to learn new skills or move their careers forward, volunteering has become a sort of corporate benefit. Companies are increasingly offering time off for volunteer projects, volunteer work on company time or company-organized efforts.

VolunteerMatch, an online database that pairs volunteers and nonprofits, now has roughly 70 corporate clients, up from 30 in 2005 and 47 in 2006. The client list — which includes Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) , Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT) , General Mills Inc. (NYSE:GIS) , Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE:MRK) — keeps growing, according to Jen Kim Field, director of VolunteerMatch Corporate Solutions, a division that creates employee volunteer programs for companies.

For an annual fee between $5,000 and $50,000, companies can give their employees access to a VolunteerMatch list of 55,300 nonprofits seeking help. Nonprofits join for free.

Field said one major attraction for companies is the chance to align their employee volunteer programs with the objective of their business. For example, VolunteerMatch has designed a program for the dog food maker Pedigree that features volunteer opportunities at animal shelters, and another for lifestyle cable channel HGTV (NYSE:SSP) that organizes remodeling-rebuilding projects with the nonprofit group Rebuilding Together.

General Electric Co. (NYSE:GE) has tutoring programs which bring elementary school children from the Philadelphia public school system to GE offices for help on school work from employee volunteers. A program for high schoolers teaches networking, interviewing and resume-building skills.

Ariel Zwang, executive director of New York Cares, said her group has seen a fivefold increase in interest from companies in New York. Zwang’s group organizes customized events for companies, and the number of volunteer jobs completed is expected to rise to 10,000 this year, up from 6,200 last year and from 2,100 in 2004.

Volunteer programs are tied efforts to retain two major employee groups, younger workers looking for work-life balance and ready-to-retire older workers who want to serve their communities, said David Eisner, chief executive of the federal government’s Corporation for National and Community Service.

Bramhall, 29 agreed the Development Partnerships program is a retention tool for Accenture.

“I’m the only one of all of my friends that works for the same company that they worked for when they graduated from college,” she said.

Workers who are part of Gen Y say they want a job that lets them also exercise their personal values and beliefs, according to a study by Deloitte & Touche USA LLC. The study shows 62 percent of Gen Y respondents between the ages of 18 and 26 want to work for companies that give them a chance to use their skills to help a nonprofit.

Younger workers’ priorities have been shaped by witnessing events such as the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami, said Evan Hochberg, national director of community involvement at Deloitte.

Eisner noted volunteers often sign up to network or spend time with work friends and find they’ve improved their interpersonal skills, their ability to work as part of a team and their ability to overcome obstacles.

“They are stretch roles for our people,” said Gib Bulloch, director and a co-founder of the Accenture program and a volunteer himself many times over. “Whether we send our best people out there, they still come back better.”

Lupe Garcia, associate general counsel in the legal department at Gap, Inc. said her supervisors have recognized the fundraising and communication skills she developed in her volunteer work have increased her skills. She was promoted two years ago to a position with expanded responsibility.

Garcia devoted her volunteer time the last six years to Oasis for Girls, a San Francisco group that encourage girls’ leadership. She has been both the chairwoman and a member of the group’s board of directors.

Employees at Gap can spend up to five hours of paid time each month on a volunteer activity. If they spend 15 hours of their own time volunteering, Gap will give $150 to the organization, as well as matching any employee donations.

Katie Cannon and Anthony Coghlan took their everyday job skills to South America as part of Ernst & Young LLP’s Corporate Social Responsibility fellows program, which helps local entrepreneurs develop their businesses. E&Y pays its employees’ salaries while the entrepreneurs get the services for free.

Cannon, a human resources manager in Minneapolis, spent several months last fall in Montevideo, Uruguay, helping the IT company Top Systems. She said the experience helps her to prepare other Ernst & Young volunteers for their projects abroad.

Meanwhile, Coghlan, a McLean, Va.-based senior manager in the risk advisory services area, spent three months working on growth initiatives with managers at Mundo Marino, a maker of prepared frozen seafood meals in Santiago, Chile.

Coghlan, who left Chile as a toddler, was glad to use the skills he’d learned through his career in the U.S. to help a business in his hometown. Mundo Marino’s future successes will have a ripple effect in the community, spurring other economic growth as it expands, he said.

“An important driver in wanting to do this was really a desire to do something with my skills that had a broader impact, that had a deeply social impact,” Coghlan said.

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