Companies lay out incentives to give

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

For hard-pressed employees weighing whether to open their wallets for charity, a little corner-office encouragement can help.

When backed by their employers, workers will dig deep - even in a time of job losses, corporate scandals, and a sluggish economy, says Rita Kusler, chief financial officer at JK Group in Princeton, N.J. The company administers philanthropic programs at some of America's largest firms. "We're finding that employees are still phenomenally generous," says Ms. Kusler.

She expects donations to rise this year in programs in which companies match charitable contributions by workers. But overall donations to employee-giving programs will be somewhat lower this year than in 2001, Kusler says.

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Take Philip Morris Companies in New York, a JK Group client. The giant firm's Employee Fund - a program managed by employees who select "focus areas" for their charitable donations - gave $7 million to charity last year. This year, the fund will have about $500,000 to $1 million less to give, says Jennifer Goodale, vice president of contributions and programs at Philip Morris.

Conversely, contributions to the company's matching-gift program have increased between 15 and 20 percent over past two years.

"It's an employee benefit, and it generates more giving for the community," says Gary Carr, senior vice president of KindMark, a Sausalito, Calif., company that helps firms manage employee-giving activities.

Another area in which employees have become more philanthropic, says Kusler: volunteerism.

The number of Philip Morris employees qualifying for a "Dollars for Doers" program - in which the company donates $1,000 to any organization at which an employee has volunteered more than 50 hours in a year - has grown from seven in 2000 to more than 100 today.

Cisco Systems, a high-tech company in San Jose, Calif., calls its volunteer program one of its most important philanthropic activities. "Employees at Cisco have access to literally tens of thousands of options to find volunteer opportunities in their communities," says Peter Tavernese, executive director of Cisco corporate philanthropy.

When Cisco laid off 6,000 people last year, it established a "Community Fellowship Program." In lieu of full severance packages, workers were given the option to work at a nonprofit for a year and while receiving one-third of their salary, two months' severance, plus benefits."More than 80 fellows participated in this program at 21 nonprofits," says Mr. Tavernese. The program has been extended through January 2003.

Firms have also encouraged employee giving by easing access to programs. Employees can often make online donations through their company's Intranet, and even follow up electronically to see what their company did with the money.

"Corporations deserve a pat on the back," Kusler says. "They are putting a lot of support behind these programs."

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