Corporate Leaders as Volunteers
This article examines the role of corporate executives as volunteers. The history and evolution of executive volunteerism is reviewed along with the social forces that have influenced its evolution. The growth of organized charity is reviewed and the role of executive volunteers in that growth is explained. Corporate volunteer programs are examined and examples of these programs are provided. The rise of service clubs is reviewed and membership trends, the types of projects they support, and the levels of funding they provide are examined. The return on involvement for individual executives and for corporate volunteer programs is also reviewed.
Keywords: Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE); Charitable Donations; Compassion Fatigue; Conscience Industry; Corporate Volunteer Programs; Kiwanis; Lions Club; Philanthropy; Rotary Club; Service Clubs; Shriners; Volunteerism
History of Volunteer Organizations: The United Way
Corporate leaders have long been volunteers. In the past they have given time, money, expertise, and perhaps most importantly influence and validation for efforts in the arts, education, community development, and social change. As post World War II business models emerged, so did new models of organized charity and executive volunteerism. The United Way, which dominated that urban landscape of corporate charitable involvement and giving for 40 plus years, was central to that new model. From the 1960s into the new millennium, the United Way campaigns in cities across America drew from the local pool of top executives and middle managers to staff, promote, and drive annual fund raising efforts.
During the 1990s, things started to change. There were many macro forces driving change including globalization, the Internet, new generations of corporate leaders, and pressure to increase the return on involvement for corporations who provided time and resources for charitable campaigns. There was also new competition emerging for the charitable dollar and this competition was both innovative and motivated. With competition also came a new glamorized model of charitable work, which could bring volunteers into contact with movie stars, racecar drivers, rock stars, and a new generation of corporate executives leading the Internet revolution.
Sociological research on nonprofit organizations has identified several strategic responses to these challenges. These responses ranged from conforming with external rules and regulations to proactively shaping the environment. According to Barman,
One of the primary marketing tools for the emerging charity was a strategy of differentiation. To differentiate is to make one-self unique and distinct. Differentiation needs to occur when nonprofit organizations encounter competition within their environment. Facing a limited amount of resources, nonprofits will seek to increase their share of a crowded market. They will work to convince other actors that they, rather than their competitors, deserve resources. To that end, they will assert their uniqueness and superiority over rivals. In order to make this claim of difference, they will construct a hierarchical relationship between themselves and their competitors based on particular criteria (Barman, 2002, p. 1194).
The competitive nature of the emerging charities paid off and did so at the expense of United Way. In 2003, just as United Way was starting its fall fund-raising campaigns, United Way of America announced that donations among the 1,394 United Ways plummeted 7.5 percent in 2002-3 — far more than the 3 percent or 4-percent decline that the organization predicted in April. Over all, United Ways raised $3.71 billion in their 2002-3 annual campaigns, compared with $3.95-billion the previous year. The erosion in donations, the worst United Way had suffered in three decades, meant that some charities that depend on United Way contributions had to cut programs and staff members.
United Way drives were also marred by bad publicity. Wrongdoing at two United Ways contributed to the overall fund-raising decline. A major accounting and management scandal at the United Way of the National Capital Area, in Washington, caused the group to raise nearly $30 million less than the previous year. And in East Lansing, Michigan, the United Way's former chief financial officer was convicted in June of embezzling two million dollars. The slow economy and a wave of corporate closings and mergers also contributed to the decline (Lewis, 2003).
The Growth of Alternative Funds
From 1996 to 2001, pledges to so-called alternative funds — federations of charities that operate campaigns separate from the United Way — grew almost 36 percent, compared with 24 percent for United Ways. In 2001, alternative funds raised almost $222.3-million, a $94.3-million increase from 1991, before adjusting for inflation. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy supports a larger role for alternative funds in on-the-job fund-raising drives because the funds typically provide donors a greater choice of charities that advocate progressive political causes than do United Ways. Non-United Way groups made the most gains among donors who annually give $1,000 or less to employee drives. In 1991, alternative funds received six percent of on-the-job donations made by those donors. In 2001, they received 11 percent of donations. Conversely, United Ways have experienced a decline in giving by people donating $1,000 or less. In 1991, those donors provided 61 percent of gifts to United Ways, but by 2001, they accounted for only 45 percent (Wilhelm, 2003).
Globalization has also taken its toll on the long established charity infrastructure. Business is now global. Culture is also global, with rapid cross-pollination of influences, art, music, fashion, and fad. And causes can now become global. It takes less than an hour for the world wide media system to bring the latest up-to-the-minute news about earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, or floods. When hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck, for example, foundations and companies contributed more than $1-billion in cash and goods for relief efforts. In addition, it is estimated that about $6.5-billion was donated by individuals and grant makers (Bermudez, 2007).
The Effects of the Internet
Then there is the Internet. A 2007 survey indicated that the Internet is playing an important role in communicating with don ors of all shapes and sizes. This makes the Web site of a nonprofit organization looking for contributions a very important asset. The same survey showed that people who support a particular nonprofit organization often use Web sites to obtain information before making donations. The more committed a person is to an organization the more likely they will be to use the Web site on an ongoing basis. In addition the study found that the higher the income of donors, the more likely they research nonprofit organizations to which they are considering making a donation (Wallace, 2007).
The Conscience Industry
Charitable contributions, philanthropy, and volunteerism have also gone through a process of glamorization over the last two decades. Compassion is now often flaunted: Celebrities launch charities, charities become fashionable, and a business of giving has been created. This new age look and feel of giving to charity works well for celebrities, consumers and businesses alike. Celebrities gain further exposure and fame. Consumers have a relatively inexpensive opportunity to be associated with faddish activities and meet new people. Businesses can gain exposure and leverage their involvement in marketing and public relations.
The conscience industry is also driven by media coverage of events, especially those that are on the air for days and days. In the case of the 2004 tsunami in Asia, over $700 million was raised in the United Kingdom by The Disasters Emergency Committee. Events like the tsunami in Asia and hurricane Katrina in New Orleans give people and corporations the opportunity to provide high-profile contributions. The downside of this is that contributions to other smaller charities can fall rather drastically after the big events consume large portions of monies that were earmarked for giving campaigns of individuals and corporations alike.
In addition to consuming the financial resources of givers, large-scale events also consume the compassion for giving and participating in charitable organizations. Charitable giving is, in reality, only a small part of life. Once people have given so much each year they may well start winding down their giving activities.
Some observers now contend that the charity industry has no scruples about exploiting media coverage for all it's worth. However, any industry with annual revenues of over $200 billion a year has grown that large because it has something to offer and it knows how to sell! (Blackburn, 2005).
The one thing that has not changed for the executive volunteer is that volunteering can help to boost a career. This goes beyond the perks of a fundraising party or annual dinner. Volunteering can expand an individual's network of business contacts. It can also help an individual develop skills that can be used at work. But volunteering can also enhance an individual's professional reputation by demonstrating involvement and dedication. This is seen as far more important than glamour giving (Allyene, 2007). In addition, work and social involvement have benefits; older people who volunteer enjoy noticeable health benefits, including added years to their lives (according to numerous studies conducted over the past 20 years). Volunteering "can also help lower rates of depression. And people who volunteer recover from illness faster than those who do not" (Wilhelm, 2007).
Corporate Volunteer Programs
Corporate executives play two major roles in volunteerism:
- They volunteer their own time and resources to support community efforts, local nonprofits, national initiatives, or global causes.
- Secondly, they promote, support, and facilitate volunteerism in their companies through informal efforts as well as structured organization policies and procedures that encourage and motivate employees to become volunteers, or what are often referred to as corporate volunteer programs.
Lockheed Martin, General Electric, and many other large companies have internally managed volunteer programs. Many organizations that benefit from the efforts of corporate supported volunteer programs help facilitate volunteer opportunities including The Miami Metro Zoo, The Houston Zoo, Los Angeles County, The Idaho Botanical Gardens, and the Arkansas Children's Hospital.
The Lockheed Martin Program
Employee volunteers across all levels of the corporation drive Lockheed Martin's tradition of volunteerism and community service by donating time, money, and energy. Lockheed Martin employees have logged millions of hours of volunteer service over the last decade. One of the company's most popular contributions is the national math competition, MATHCOUNTS®, which has reached more than a half-million students.
Lockheed Martin has created an internal Volunteer Website that enables employees to record and track their volunteer efforts. Statistics can be generated in a variety of ways including corporate-wide, by activity, or for company-sponsored activities vs. those being done independently.
In addition, several Lockheed Martin facilities have established volunteer councils. One group which has facilities in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, and the Washington, D.C., region has also established a volunteer network for employees. The network helps to coordinate volunteer activities ranging from tutoring programs, to collection drives, to fund-raising activities for a wide variety of charities.
Recognition is an important tool for motivating and rewarding volunteers. Lockheed Martin formally recognizes employees who log more than 100 volunteer hours on the Volunteer Website. In addition, all employees who record hours receive a Certificate of Appreciation for their volunteer work.
In addition to supporting volunteerism, Lockheed Martin donates millions of dollars every year to community projects. Donations are allocated to educational programs, with particular emphasis on initiatives in the areas of math, science, engineering and technology as well as homeless shelters, food drives, and children's programs.
Lockheed Martin Employees Care is a corporate-wide program that sends care packages to military troops overseas through United Service Orgnization. Over the years the corporation and its employees have contributed more than $675,000 to the program which has paid for more than 27,000 care packages (www.lockheedmartin.com, 2007).
Los Angeles Corporate Volunteer Council
The Los Angeles Corporate Volunteer Council (LACVC) was established to create internal and external community opportunities for businesses to become more involved in the Los Angeles community through volunteerism. The LACVC acts as a clearinghouse of the best practices and models of community involvement and to foster collaborative efforts in community wide volunteer activities. The core supporting organizations of the council are Citibank, Connect LA, Creative Artists Agency, Disney Worldwide, Home Depot, Merrill Lynch, and Washington Mutual (www.volunteers.org, 2007). The LACVC provides and infrastructure to support corporate programs that work to involve executives and employees in community efforts.
Programs Supported by the LACVC
Examples of high priority programs supported by the LACVC on their website, www.volunteers.org include:
- A nonprofit organization that provides services to homeless and low-income families and individuals that is seeking volunteers to assist with numerous programs such as: One-on-one mentoring program for teens; preparing and serving hot meals to homeless men, women and children; assist in connecting homeless people with services and case management; assist in the day care and preschool programs; sort and distribute food bags to needy families; assist homeless and homebound elderly with case management, home visits and grocery shopping; assist with the thrift store; assist homeless and at-risk mentally ill adults with money management, finding housing etc.
- Delivering pet food Countywide to homebound clients. Assist the sick and shut-in in your neighborhood with feeding their pets. This opportunity is with a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the human-animal connection for low-income seniors and people disabled by a life threatening illness by helping them keep and care for their companion animals. Volunteers are needed every third Saturday of the month for about 4 hours.
- Volunteers to be a mentor to an at-risk youth, offering both friendship and academic help. Mentoring is simply spending some time with youth in a variety of activities. For example, sports, board games, reading, field trips, homework, or good old fashion conversation! The purpose of the program is to improve student success for children who are vulnerable to educational failure by providing high quality, one to one mentoring relationships that promote academic excellence, post secondary education and positive life skills.
- Book distributions and parents/home literacy workshops. This agency is hosting three book distribution celebrations this school year for all of their students (parents and children). Each child enrolled in the Early Childhood Education classes will receive his/her own book (three in total). There will...
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