Employers Encourage Workers to Volunteer
Even as Grants Fall, Firms Offer Services

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 23, 2008

David McGinty spends five to 10 hours a week helping the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington with such projects as training staff to teach hundreds of kids computer literacy.

He doesn't have to worry about his volunteer work getting in the way of his real work as a manager in the Washington National Tax group of Deloitte. That's because Deloitte asked him to give his time to the nonprofit organization. McGinty, a product of a Boys & Girls Club in his home state of Alabama, was more than happy to comply, and does some of the work on his own time.

"We have hectic schedules and travel a lot, but I wanted to be involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs and help them out and have an impact within the community," he said.

Companies large and small have been making cutbacks due to poor earnings, but that's not putting an end to the charitable work that nonprofit organizations have come to expect from them. This year, however, as the economic outlook grows more dire each day, corporations are increasingly donating the skills of their employees, on company time, rather than just dollars, local companies and nonprofit groups said.

"I think it's a reality of the economic times," said Lisa M. Hamilton, president of the UPS Foundation, which among other things has trained 17 employees to be part of a response team that can be deployed to major natural disasters. "Companies are unable to provide grants at the same levels of the past. They are looking for creative ways to continue to help communities."

The argument for skills-based volunteerism is that nonprofits can't afford consulting at private sector rates. So the corporations are doing good deeds while saving some money that would otherwise go to donations. Some companies are replacing their monetary contributions with skills-based volunteerism. Others are continuing to donate dollars but supplementing that with this different form of charity.

"This is a cost to our company, but it's not the same as writing a check from a different budget, and our people love doing it," said Emily Rothberg, southeast leader for community involvement for Deloitte.

Companies do not receive tax deductions for their employees' volunteer work -- even if it is a corporate-wide effort such as a volunteer day, said Katy Moore, member services manager for the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, a nonprofit member association for philanthropic associations. In fact, she added, the IRS does not recognize the giving of time as a deduction at all -- not for individuals or businesses.

Leah Lamb, chief development officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, said it is too soon to tell how much corporations are going to cut back on monetary contributions because they are usually given around the holidays.

"We're just at the stage everyone else is at of biting our nails and not understanding how the economy will affect us," she said. "We know it will affect us, but we don't know how yet."

In the meantime, Lamb said her organization is profiting from the skills of employees from not just Deloitte, but also companies such as Marriott and Verizon.

"They've been great at providing expertise that we couldn't pay for if we needed to," she said.

Several other local companies have become important resources to the D.C. area nonprofit community.

Deloitte, for instance, contributed $250,000 and more than 1,000 hours of professional time over two years to help nonprofits create disaster preparedness plans. In February, the firm sent 90 employees to Annandale High School to help families from households earning less than $40,000 with their state and federal taxes.

TD Bank, formerly Commerce Bank, sends professionals to area schools to teach third- to 12th-graders financial literacy. The company also sends employees to help with summer reading programs in schools.

AOL tomorrow will launch a network-wide campaign to support the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's Thanks and Giving program. The company will essentially give the hospital free advertising. For instance, holiday-themed AOL radio stations will run St. Jude public service announcements and ParentDish and AOL Health will blog about a St. Jude patient and his or her family.

Even Fannie Mae, which is now operating under federal conservatorship because of its mortgage losses, has continued its volunteer efforts, even while cutting back some of its monetary donations. Fannie Mae allows employees to take up to 10 hours a month in paid leave to volunteer in the community. Employees volunteer at foreclosure prevention events and go to local high schools to teach students financial literacy.

"As we go through conservatorship, we've gone through a tough economic period and a tough economic crisis, we've had to cut back on our charitable giving, but we remain committed to giving in areas that are related to our mission of affordable housing and helping the homeless," said Stacey D. Stewart, senior vice president at Fannie Mae.

Employees say they genuinely enjoy the volunteer work their companies allow them to do.

UPS lent Matt Lawrence, a supply chain manager, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for eight months. Lawrence temporarily moved from Jersey City, N.J., to the District to come up with a better way to transport and distribute water, food and other commodities during emergency situations. He even delayed his first year of an MBA program to do it.

"It was a great experience just in terms of taking the experiences I have had over the years and being able to share them with FEMA," he said.

He also learned a lot, he said. "Just being able to understand how the government works and operates is extremely valuable."

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