Originally created 07/05/97

Companies paying employees to volunteer



Will your boss pay you to read a story, plant a garden, play a game on the basketball court?

You might be surprised. More companies are willing to reimburse employees for community service since a recent wave of volunteerism hit the nation, and many in the Augusta area haven't been left behind.

Since 1977, companies have "loaned" executives to the United Way to help with campaigns, while continuing to pay their salaries. For two years, First Union has offered employees four paid hours each month to volunteer at a school of their choice.

Delta Airlines, which began a program called "Community Partners" to encourage employees to volunteer, has discussed paying workers for their service, a spokesman in Atlanta said.

And AT&T recently started a program, AT&T Cares, that pays employees a full day each year to volunteer at any non-profit organization they want. Since the program kicked off in March, Augusta workers have racked up 480 hours at organizations like Golden Harvest Food Bank, the March of Dimes and area schools, said Brenda Morton, a division supervisor who also helps coordinate the volunteer activities.

"A lot of them had never volunteered before, and they really liked it," she said. "The hope is that they will stay involved, that they will continue to volunteer on their own time."

Corporations across the country responded to President Clinton's recent call for a volunteer culture, pledging millions of hours at non-profit organizations by the year 2000.

"To my knowledge, this is a fairly new phenomenon," said C.B. Bhattacharya, a professor at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. "The scale is unprecedented."

As Americans become more socially conscious, companies are responding by offering a more socially responsible vision of themselves, Dr. Bhattacharya said. Officials at many companies cite Mr. Clinton's Philadelphia summit as a turning point in corporate volunteerism.

"It was very important - it sort of validated what we were trying to do all along," said LaVerne Gold, whose work with the United Way of the CSRA has relied on volunteers.

For years, employees have been encouraged to participate in United Way programs or other volunteer work. Workers from area businesses such as Publix and BellSouth showed up at a recent seminar to volunteer as tutors and mentors. The Walt Disney Co., which pledged 1 million volunteer hours by 2000, teamed its Disney Stores with Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

But paying them to volunteer?

It may seem like a new idea, but for 20 years, area businesses have paid executives from one to three months to work with the United Way during campaign season. The "loaned executives" have come from such businesses as the Veteran's Administration Medical Centers, Wackenhut Services, Palmetto Federal Savings Bank and Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp.

"I really enjoyed it - it's probably one of the best things I've ever done," said Sherry Southern of the Department of Energy at Savannah River Site. "It gave me the opportunity to see a lot more of Augusta."

First Union in Augusta also has loaned executives for years and recently started a program that pays other employees to volunteer at area schools, Augusta city president Charles Rivers said. About 15 employees have been consistently active in the schools, and one volunteer managed to secure a $10,000 grant for A. Brian Merry Elementary School, Mr. Rivers said.

The school was eligible for the First Union "Seeds for Success" grant because Nancy Santiago, who works in the bank's credit card division, volunteered there. The school plans to use the money to build an outdoor classroom.

"As soon as I knew about the company policy, I decided to take advantage of it," said Mrs. Santiago, whose children attend the elementary school. "It's been a big help - I had been wanting to do this for a long time."

Forming partnerships with schools or non-profits is becoming popular in corporate volunteerism because it allows companies to focus on issues related to their business, Dr. Bhattacharya said.

"This allows them to help in a better fashion than just giving money," he said. "It allows them to align themselves with a non-profit they want to help. You have companies like Home Depot that work with Habitat for Humanity - the type of work is linked, in a strategic sense."

In the Augusta area, Home Depot has helped Habitat for Humanity build two or three houses, donating materials such as cabinets, wallpaper, plumbing and grass seed, assistant manager Danny Hardin said.

Other corporate partners include Target, which tries to build a Habitat home in each city where the company opens a new store, a spokeswoman said. A new Target is scheduled to open this fall in the Augusta Exchange shopping center, which is under construction.

The contractor and sub-contractors who build the new store also build the home. Land is currently being cleared for a Target/Habitat home in Augusta, said Jan Maietta of Habitat for Humanity of Augusta.

"These corporate partnerships are extremely important," she said. "I don't know how we'd function without them. Of course, our individual volunteers help us a great deal with labor and donations, but we really do need our corporate partners."