A Richness Of Resources
As businesses expand their community service roles, the lines between philanthropy and profit are likely to blur. But experts say everyone benefits when hands-on volunteerism joins traditional corporate giving.
In previous generations, supporting a favorite charity was often neat and simple – write a check and count on the charity to do the rest.
When corporations wanted to support a charity, their approach was largely the same. “The World War II generation and the corporations they ran are noted for their support of major institutions and for giving money and saying, ‘All right, you do with it what you want,’” says Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Inc., which for 56 years has been matching donors with organizations that serve their interests.
But along came the baby boomers and then the Gen-Xers, and personal giving habits changed. Not surprisingly, corporate giving followed suit.
While financial gifts – large and small – remain essential to charitable programs, corporate giving today extends far beyond financial assistance. Businesses want to give money, but many want to give more – they want to give time and talent to causes they hold dear. They want to make an impact on the community that has supported them and where their employees work and live, even if doing so blurs some of the traditional lines between philanthropy and profit.
“We are recognizing,” says Lesley Grady, the Community Foundation’s vice president of community partnerships, “that we don’t have to have these silos of ‘Here’s my charitable work, here’s my community work, here is how I make my employees motivated and happy, and here is how I make my profit,’” she says. “We are realizing that with a little bit of thinking and engagement there are ways to make a profit, support your brand and do what is healthy for the business as well as do what is healthy for the community.”
Yet with the breakdown of these silos comes a sort of messiness that makes some people uncomfortable, Philipp says. “There are a lot of sort of messy edges that people want to say ‘Ooh, that’s not charitable, that’s enhancing their brand – they are making money off of that,’” she says. “But I am not so sure that’s where we should be focusing, on cutting the edges back and making it really clean again. Because in this messiness – in this overlap among the profit, the employee piece and the charitable piece – is a fabulous richness of resources.
“There are people resources, financial resources and talent resources that have never been brought to some of our community issues before, because it is messy and corporations have been criticized for that rather than giving a grant and walking away. But why should they give a grant and walk away if they have so much to give beyond money? Why not bring all of those other things to the table, why not give their expertise?”
Most companies today, understandably, are looking for opportunities to build on their assets, Philipp says. For example, the Publix supermarket chain has as one of its missions feeding the hungry. It achieves that goal by donating Publix gift cards to organizations that feed people, giving its scratched and dented cans of nonperishables to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, feeding hungry Habitat for Humanity workers, providing sandwiches for participants in the March of Dimes Walkathon and even holding quarterly cookouts in front of its stores to raise money for charitable causes, including the United Way.
Managed care organization Kaiser Permanente is involved in a number of local healthcare-related activities including Healthy Belvedere, an initiative conducted with the Com-munity Foundation for Greater Atlanta, to promote healthy eating and active living among youth and adults through a grassroots effort in southwest DeKalb’s Belvedere community. Washington Mutual provides financial education, fee-free savings accounts and prizes for saving to schoolchildren through its School Savings Program. Countless businesses offer their managers’ specific expertise to nonprofits nationwide by allowing or even encouraging them to serve on those organizations’ boards.
While much corporate citizenship takes place in boardrooms or classrooms, or even on supermarket sidewalks, opportunities for hands-on community involvement abound. Increasingly, you’ll see corporate teams rolling up their sleeves for projects as diverse as painting schools, building wheelchair ramps, planting trees and picking up trash from parks. Too, organizations are connecting eager volunteers with projects that require their skills and, often, their sweat.
One of the largest such organizations is Hands On Atlanta, a nonprofit organization formed in 1989 by Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, to help individuals, families and corporate and community groups find flexible volunteer opportunities. It began with a budget of less than $50,000 and an all-volunteer staff of fewer than 10; now Hands On Atlanta boasts a budget of $6.3 million and a professional staff of 45. An affiliate of the Hands On Network, an umbrella association of “Cares” and “Hands On” organizations across the United States, the UK and other countries, Hands On Atlanta currently connects its more than 37,000 volunteers with more than 400 service organizations and schools, and serves as a model for volunteer organizations throughout the nation.
“Corporate volunteers are ap-proximately 30 percent of the Hands On Atlanta volunteer base,” says Lindsey Wolfe King, Hands On Atlanta’s associate director of corporate relations. “Corporate volunteering is a huge part of what we do both in special events and ongoing programming.”
While Hands On Atlanta volunteers work with schools, parks, senior homes, food banks, pet shelters and low-income neighborhoods 365 days a year, the organization’s most visible work often takes place on a single day each year – Hands on Atlanta Day. Many of Hands On Atlanta’s corporate partners dedicate that day to a large service project for their employees. Others, including Deloitte, a worldwide organization providing audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services, select another day each year to immerse employees in a special service project or projects.
Deloitte Impact Day began eight years ago in the Atlanta area “basically as a call to service,” says Brevard Fraser, southeast regional volunteerism leader for Deloitte. “It was a call to us to put down our calculators and consulting notebooks and actually get out into the community and give back,” she says. “Deloitte has partnered with Hands On Atlanta to identify projects that both use our intellectual capital to help with some of their skill-based projects, such as project management or teaching budget 101 classes, as well as what we love doing on the weekends.”
Based on the Atlanta program’s success, Deloitte Impact Day has since grown to encompass Deloitte offices throughout the United States as well as some international locations. This year, between 1,200 and 1,400 of the corporation’s approximately 1,800 Atlanta-area employees were expected to turn out on Deloitte Impact Day to help with an assortment of projects ranging from cleaning up schools and parks to developing operating systems for Hands On Atlanta’s Tool Depot, which houses tools for its service projects, and the City of Refuge Thrift Store.
Hands on Atlanta’s success was the inspiration for Hands on Georgia, an organization formed in 2004 to help communities throughout the state develop their own volunteer organizations, says Eric Tanenblatt, senior managing director for the Atlanta-based law firm McKenna, Long & Aldridge and board chairman for Hands On Georgia.
While serving as chief of staff for Gov. Sonny Perdue, Tanenblatt, who is also a former Hands On Atlanta Board member, was so impressed with the group’s work that he envisioned a similar organization that would support volunteerism statewide. “What Hands On Atlanta was doing was a good template for what other communities could do,” he says.
That year, 2003, Tanenblatt worked with Michelle Nunn to put together a three-year, $3 million business plan for Hands On Georgia, which they presented to Gov. Perdue. After a year of input from existing volunteer groups and successful fund raising, largely from corporate donors, Hands On Georgia launched in the fall of 2004 with Hands On Georgia Week – during which communities across the state would engage in volunteer activities.
“That first year, five communities kicked off this Hands On Georgia Week,” Tanenblatt says. By 2006 Hands On Georgia counted 18 affiliates, and all 159 Georgia counties engaged in some type of community service during the designated week. Among them was Thomas County, which kicked off Hands On Thomas County during the first Hands On Georgia Week, designating one day as Hands On Thomas County Day.
Last year, more than 1,000 of Thomasville’s 40,000 residents turned out for Hands on Thomas County Day, and local businesses provided more than half of those volunteers, says Alston Watt, Hands on Thomas County board chair. While the day’s goal is to introduce Thomas County residents to the community’s many needs and volunteer opportunities, local businesses have made it a friendly competition to see who could get the most employees involved.
Last year, Archbold Memorial Hospital, the area’s largest employer, took the honors with 89 employee volunteers – almost 10 percent of the day’s total volunteers. Thomas University, a small private school, with 77 participants, and Flowers Foods, with around 50, came in second and third, respectively. Flowers Foods, which is headquartered in Thomasville, also underwrote a barbecue to feed and congratulate hungry volunteers after a hard day’s work, which resulted in the completion of the majority of projects that day.
“Ninety-five percent of the projects [planned for the day] can be done in a day, so volunteers can feel a sense of accomplishment,” Watt says. “When people enjoy the project, they want to do more. It’s our carrot for an ongoing love of volunteering.”
Indeed, volunteering and giving has become an ongoing love for many. For more than 100 years Atlantans have supported their community’s needs through the United Way. “The organization was formed by business leaders to provide a united way of responding to the needs of the community,” says LMichael Green, executive vice president of resource development at United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, which, two years ago, celebrated its centennial.
Much of that response has been through funds raised from one-time donations and payroll deductions pledged during the United Way’s annual campaign, which this year involved more than 2,000 local businesses. But, increasingly, United Way looks to corporations to fill volunteer positions in the organization as well as to serve the 209 agencies that seek its funding and the more than 400 different programs those agencies represent.
Such services range from an executive loan program, in which corporations loan executives to United Way for a four-to-six-month period to assist with everything from fund raising to hands-on projects that can be completed in the office. For example, the Marietta office of Arcadis, an international company that provides consultancy, engineering and management services, recently volunteered for a United Way project to fill shoeboxes with toiletries for homeless women.
To Whom Much Is Given …
Not surprisingly, some of the largest corporations are the biggest givers financially and other ways. For example, Atlanta-based UPS has been the nation’s top corporate contributor to the United Way; last year its employees gave a collective 850,000 hours in volunteer service. In many cases, that time was logged by individual employees, filling needs they saw in their communities. “We are everywhere, so our frontline drivers see what the needs are directly,” says UPS spokesperson Elizabeth Rasberry. “They are out there every day. They see the needs every day.”
Rasberry says some UPS drivers stop at schools along their routes and spend lunch hours reading to children. Others have collected items for schools or others in need.
Publix supermarkets, which now blanket Georgia from the Florida line up to the North Georgia mountains and from Savannah to the Alabama line, is the United Way’s second largest supporter in Atlanta. Aside from feeding the hungry, the corporation backs educational programs, youth sports and the arts. Publix also encourages individual employees to become involved in community work and presents an annual award to an employee for exceptional volunteer service.
Why do such organizations devote so much time to community service? “Because we are part of the community,” says Brenda Reid, Publix’s media and community relations manager.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” she adds. “We need to support the community. Being out in the community helps us understand the customers in that area, to know what they are interested in. It also gives us a personal connection to our customers. It’s not just walking into a store and seeing us. We love it when you see us when you walk into a PTA meeting or when you walk into a high school football game. It gives us the brand recognition, it gives us the service recognition, because we are serving the community in the store as well as outside in the community. It just adds to the value of who we are in the shopping experience.”
When businesses become involved in the work of the community, everyone wins, Alicia Philipp says. The benefits to the community are obvious, but corporations and their employees also benefit. “I think it really makes that corporate dollar go further in the community because it is really leveraging time, talent and treasure all together, instead of just giving treasure. They are really leveraging that.”
Employee morale and satisfaction are likely to rise as well, and employees often get the opportunity to work with others in their own companies and elsewhere that they might not otherwise have, Philipp says.
“It’s team building and all of that,” she notes. “But another thing it does that people may not realize is that it sometimes gives employees who might not have a leadership opportunity in the workplace a leadership opportunity in the service arena. This gives them a chance to do that and can help them on the career ladder in the corporation. So there are all kinds of benefits back to the individual and the corporation.”