Corporate generosity: time, not just money
Corporate good citizenship should be more than just writing checks. That is the feeling of many executives as more and more companies roll up their collective sleeves and pitch in - their employees tutoring in schools, caring for the elderly, becoming active in community development.Skip to next paragraph
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In the past few years, corporations have become more formalized in their organization of volunteer programs. A 1979 study identified almost 350 companies with organized volunteer programs; now almost 500 are reckoned to have these, according to Shirley Keller of VOLUNTEER: the National Center for Citizen Involvement in Arlington, Va.
Some important trends:
* Companies are inventorying skills and interests of would-be volunteers among their employees, in some cases under a full-time coordinator.
* More corporate retirees are getting into the act.
* Some companies, but not all, are providing ''released time,'' time off work with pay, for such activities as tutoring in schools.
* ''Companies are looking for ways to encourage the 'employee owned' approach ,'' one official says. This means employees form a ''community involvement team'' to decide which to activities become involved in.
Levi Strauss & Co. of blue jeans fame, recognized as a leader in the area of corporate social responsibility, has a community involvement team at each of its 100 plants worldwide. People join or quit the team as they wish, and the group members decide that some or all of them will work with the elderly, the Boy Scouts, or whatever project they wish.
A volunteer program must have solid support from the top, observers agree; but wide-based involvement at the corporate grass-roots level is important, too.
New companies, such as those being launched as a result of the AT&T breakup, are also looking at philanthropic work as a way to establish corporate identities.
''Another important trend,'' says Ms. Keller, ''is that some companies are making a conscious effort to tie monetary contributions to their non-cash contributions.''
Companies such as Levi Strauss set aside some of the corporate contributions money for grants to organizations in which their employees are serving as board members or rank-and-file volunteers.
Companies are now expanding their matching-gifts program, once limited almost exclusively to institutions of higher learning, to arts organizations and in some instances a very broad range of nonprofit organizations.
Sometimes a corporation can find a volunteer cause neatly related to its business line. The recently announced national literacy initiative of the B.Dalton Booksellers chain - part of the philanthropically active Minnesota department store firm, Dayton Hudson - is a case in point. The bookstore chain's goal is to have 800 of its 8,500 regular employees nationwide trained to tutor some of the nation's millions of functional - or total - illiterates.
One company that has cultivated a role as patron of the corporate volunteer movement is Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company of Newark, N.J. It sponsored a survey of corporate chief executive officers and their attitudes on philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.
The survey found that most CEOs accept the idea that businesses have an obligation to the community beyond providing goods and services and jobs. But most CEOs still think in terms of corporate good citizenship as check-writing. They tend not to think in terms of lending executives or in-kind services, and their ideas for promoting volunteerism among their employees are rather vague.
''Most CEOs firmly believe in volunteerism,'' says Livingstone T. Goodman, director of public relations at Mutual Benefit Life. ''Most of them serve in some volunteer capacity themselves. But they haven't carried that commitment down through the organization.