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Business of Giving: The Value of Volunteers


Corporations can help nonprofits by getting involved.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, our new president asked Americans to volunteer in their communities. It was the day before he took the oath of office, and one can imagine he had a lot of other things on his mind. Regardless, Barack Obama took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and helped paint the walls of an emergency teen shelter in Washington, DC.

In assuming the role of Volunteer-in-Chief, President Obama demonstrated to the nation that society's ills can be solved in ways other than check-writing: Face time works, too. As the head of a nonprofit organization, I'm the last person to turn down a donation. But we also need volunteers. Badly.

You can help nonprofits like mine meet our manpower demands. Here's an example: Intel Corp. (INTC) made a 1-million-volunteer-hours commitment on behalf of its employees. More than half of the company's workforce participated in the campaign, aiding 5,500 nonprofits across the country.

But that wasn't the only benefit. This program signaled to employees that people in the front office understand that in hard times, we don't have to go it alone. Instead, we can all come together and help each other. That's a powerful message.

Another easy way corporations can help nonprofits is by starting a dialogue. Host an employee luncheon and talk about why your company believes in volunteerism. Ask employees to talk about their personal experiences and the needs that exist. It will motivate action. Helping is empowering; it makes us feel we can change the world around us.

Mentoring programs are another great way to get employees involved. Set aside 1 day, as Goldman Sachs (GS) does, and send your employees to a local high school to help students with their college essays. Employees may grumble at first: What difference can 1 day make? But the kids say, "One day and I can get the help I need with my college entrance essay." And as I've seen happen time and again, that day often ends with the swapping of e-mail addresses and the beginning of long-term dialogues.

Here's another idea that doesn't involve writing a check: If you can't help fund a job-creation program, instead, give a job to someone who really needs one. One day I asked my staff: "How many intellectually impaired people do we have working for us?" They thought I was joking, but I was dead serious. At the supermarket there might be a person who's disabled, collecting carts in the parking lot. He's doing a job he can do. There are probably similar jobs in your corporation.

So I challenge you to think about jobs in your organization that can be performed by those who have disabilities. When you give jobs to people who are blind or in a wheelchair -- and help turn them into taxpayers like you and me -- you're not only helping improve their economic situation, you're improving everyone's.

When dollars are tight, your corporation may need to limit its monetary donations. But don't let hard economic times be an excuse for neglecting your company's civic duty. Get creative, and you'll find low-cost or cost-effective ways to help those who need it the most.

Volunteering is good for your health, your community and your company. As Toddo says, "If you're not part of the solution, you're probably part of the problem."
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