An increasing number of U.S. companies encourage employees to volunteer their time cleaning coastlines, handing out food for the poor and other charitable work as a means of boosting their image and doing their part for the community. "Everybody does it, every big law firm has one now, every manufacturer," said Arthur Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs and author of "Who Really Cares," a book about charity in America. "Philanthropy is really motivated by trying to build a reputation in the community," he added.
The trend has become so popular that major companies are setting up special departments to coordinate volunteer work and are hiring "volunteer coordinators" or "directors of community relations." Employees who choose to take part in such programs are given time off in exchange.
IBM for its part has set up an online portal for employees and company retirees informing them of volunteer programs, which in some instances are beneficial to the company's image. Employees, for example, can download ready-made presentations to make at schools on such subjects as information technology or security on the Internet. "We marry our commitment to volunteerism and community service with our on-demand business strategy," said Diane Melley, director of IBM corporate community relations.
Volunteer work "takes this incredible wealth of talent that IBM has as a company and unleashes the power of all of those people to try to make a difference in their community around the world," Melley added. "It also enables our people to get the IBM brand out there and to spread some of our technology which is also very beneficial to the business."
Brooks said the phenomenon has become such that many companies can no longer afford not to engage in altruistic activities. "It's something they have to offer to highly educated employees," Brooks said. "To remain competitive, they have to do it."
Tim Riley, head of personnel at Forrester Research, a marketing firm that offers employees a day off for volunteer work, said he has noticed over the years that more and more people interviewing for a job ask whether the company has a volunteer program. "I think it reflects a shift in people, younger people that want to work in a company whose values are similar to their own," he said. Tammy Morreali, director of national community relations with PricewaterhouseCoopers, agrees. "It's a big priority for college students these days," she said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006