Executives on loan
When corporate chieftains work for a while in a nonprofit's shoes, both sides can make strides.
Derk Tenzythoff wasn't sure what to expect when his firm "loaned" him to the United Way in Tulsa, Okla., for four months last year.Skip to next paragraph
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As vice president of programming and marketing for UVTV, a division of TV Guide, he knew television pretty much inside and out. But then he joined about three-dozen other local corporate executives to help United Way during its annual fundraising campaign and, in the process, he learned a lot about what it takes to run a nonprofit.
Mr. Tenzythoff continued to be paid his regular salary by his employer during the course of the "loan." But he worked solely for United Way during those four months, becoming the agency's lead person for contacting all the construction companies in Tulsa as part of the fundraising campaign.
"You're getting the word out," says Tenzythoff of the campaign, which yielded $24 million in donations last year. "You get as much information about the agencies United Way supports here into those companies as possible. The more people know, the more likely they are to give."
Tulsa firms have been loaning executives to the United Way since 1984 in a kind of corporate giving that has been growing in popularity: paying employees to work for local charities for days, weeks, or months at a time.
"We in the nonprofit sector are very enthusiastic about this," says Sara Melendez, president and CEO of Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization that tracks trends in giving and volunteering. "These people usually earn a lot more in a for-profit environment than a nonprofit could pay them.
"In addition to writing a check, this is another way that corporations can help in their commitment to their communities," she says. "Because a real live person brings business knowledge and skills that not all nonprofits can easily acquire on their own, it's important because there is a growing sense of the need for nonprofits to learn from the best of business practices."
Although no hard data are available, a recent study by Prudential Insurance of America estimates that a third of large US companies now have formal policies to pay workers or give them time off for volunteer work.
Experts say the practice grew in the 1990s, in part because of a growing cultural and corporate emphasis on volunteerism, nurtured through groups like The Points of Light Foundation, which has a special program to help corporations develop employee volunteer programs.
In addition, says Dinah Waldsmith, senior manager of community investment with Business for Social Responsibility, many companies also began to think of employees as stakeholders during the last decade, and looked for ways to show their commitment to employee concerns.
"Companies are doing what they can to make sure employees are aware of the ways in which companies support things the employee cares about," says Ms. Waldsmith. "In the case of corporate-sponsored volunteering, or loaned executives, the company is kind of walking its talk."
At Whole Foods, the national grocery store chain that specializes in sales of natural and organic foods, the company has been walking its talk since 1993, when it began paying employees at every level in the company for up to 20 hours of work each year at a nonprofit organization of their choice.
"We did it to show that we're really committed," says Cindy Bradley, vice president of human resources and team-member services. "We really wanted our team members to be involved in our communities."
According to Ms. Bradley, Whole Foods spent nearly a half-million dollars last year in payment to employees who chose to participate in the volunteer program. Although the company doesn't track who decides to participate, it does measure the amount of money it spends, and those figures show that employee interest in the program has grown steadily, she says.
The amount Whole Foods paid its employees for community service hours grew by 15.7 percent between 1999 and 2000, and by 19.8 percent the following year.