Firms encourage staff to spend time giving back



matt bourke/the associated press


GE employee and volunteer reading coach Claude Brogunier works with student Rosie Mahan at a GE office in Wayne, Pa. More employees see volunteer work as a way to learn new skills or move their careers forward.


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 non-profit 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 non-profits, now has roughly 70 corporate clients, up from 30 in 2005 and 47 in 2006. The client list — which includes Google Inc., Target Corp., General Mills Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. Inc. — 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 US, firms can give their employees access to a VolunteerMatch list of 55,300 non-profits seeking help. Non-profits join for free.

Field said one major attraction for companies is the chance to align employee volunteer programs with the objective of their business. For example, VolunteerMatch has designed a program for dog food maker Pedigree featuring volunteer opportunities at animal shelters, and one for lifestyle cable channel HGTV organizing remodelling-rebuilding projects with the non-profit group Rebuilding Together.

General Electric Co. has tutoring programs that 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.

Volunteer programs are tied to 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 U.S. 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.

According to a study by Deloitte & Touche USA LLC, 62 per cent 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 non-profit.