Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

April 25, 2011

Corporate volunteers a community asset

By Todd Cohen

Nonprofits should make it their business to strengthen their partnerships with business.

Those partnerships can benefit nonprofits and businesses alike.

Nonprofits are searching for ways to stretch their limited resources so they can meet rising demand for services fueled by the wounded economy.

And businesses, also slammed by the economic crisis, are looking for ways to build their brand and stretch the limited dollars they have to support community causes.

A simple solution for both groups is to find ways to work more closely with one another, particularly by putting business employees to work as nonprofit volunteers.

Volunteers, whether they serve on boards, work with clients or handle back-office assignments, add expertise and new energy and ideas to a nonprofit.

And employees’ volunteer experience can yield a high return on investment for their employers, whether or not the employees are permitted to volunteer on company time.

Not only does volunteering give employees the kind of professional-development training and hands-on experience their employers otherwise might not provide, but it also can make employees feel better about the companies they work for.

Research consistently has shown good corporate citizens are more likely to keep and attract employees.

Matching nonprofits that need volunteers with businesses looking for ways to encourage employee volunteerism also can be great way to build “social capital,” or the social connections within a community.

Some communities already have organizations or programs -- volunteer centers, United Ways, executive service programs and chambers of commerce -- that can serve as a volunteer broker between nonprofits and businesses.

And in communities that lack such programs, those groups as well as community foundations can step up and play that role.

Philanthropy and the nonprofit sector should be all about building community by boosting the capacity of people and places in need.

Sadly, much of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector has become all about building empires for individual nonprofits and philanthropic organizations.

By working together to encourage and broker corporate volunteerism, nonprofits, companies and other groups can help strengthen the culture of philanthropy in their community.

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