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Skills-Based Volunteerism: Setting a New Standard for Corporate Community Impact

July 12, 2013

(Nicole Stein is vice president of community responsibility at Umpqua Bank, where she oversees strategic charitable giving, associate volunteerism, financial literacy initiatives, and environmental sustainability issues.)

Headshot_nicole-steinThe old adage "Do what you love; the money will follow" has long sparked debate over the interplay between professional success and personal happiness -- and how to marry the two in an authentic way. The ongoing evolution of the corporate philanthropy landscape suggests a possible answer.

Companies are looking for ways to differentiate themselves, engage their clients and customers, attract and retain high-quality employees, and inspire action that creates positive change in their communities and around the world. Employees, too, want their jobs to make a positive difference -- not just in their chosen professional fields but also in their communities. Studies have shown that volunteering and serving others makes us happier. The act of giving back and engaging in activities one is passionate about also inspires us to incorporate those actions into our daily lives, including our work lives. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, a new report from Net Impact, found that 65 percent of college graduates entering the job market expected to make an environmental or social impact through their jobs, while 45 percent said they would be willing to take a pay cut for a position that makes that possible.

Indeed, in an era of round-the-clock digital access and exposure to new information, a collective mindset that transcends geographic and cultural boundaries is becoming integrated into everything we do, both in and out of the workplace. Call it the "do it together" model. For businesses, this transformation has meant redefining what it means to be a good corporate citizen and shifting the model from monetary or one-off contributions to an established program that leverages an organization's human capital to address a community need and causes employees care deeply about. It's a paradigm shift, and you can see it in the numbers. According to CECP's latest Giving in Numbers: Trends in Corporate Giving report, between 2007 and 2012 the percentage of companies offering paid-release time volunteer programs jumped from 53 to 70 percent. Non-cash contributions as a percentage of total contributions also increased, from 57 to 69 percent.

It couldn't be happening at a better time. A growing number of nonprofit organizations face business and operational challenges they simply do not have the resources to overcome. The emerging trend toward skills-based volunteering builds on an existing base of volunteers, one with a broad range of professional expertise. Volunteering also provides employees with invaluable opportunities to test, refine, and optimize their skills in new settings, increasing both their productivity and creativity.

For nonprofits, the shift has meant developing a new understanding of how to effectively tap into the brainpower that skills-based volunteers bring to the table and engage them in projects that are mutually beneficial. The nonprofits best set up to take advantage of such skills typically have a strong understanding of the value of this newer breed of volunteers, know what their own biggest challenges are, and are able to match skills-based volunteers strategically with activities that leverage their passions and areas of expertise.

At Umpqua Bank, our volunteer program -- the Connect Volunteer Network -- is consistently rated by our associates as one of our most valued benefits. Volunteerism is embraced as a core business value throughout the company, and we work to make sure that our efforts are an authentic extension of our culture, address causes that our people care about, and are supported through paid volunteer time -- forty hours a year for full-time associates and twenty for part-time associates. Our associates engage in activities they are personally enthusiastic about, including sharing their time and job skills to meet a nonprofit's need. Examples range from helping vulnerable individuals manage personal finances and creating databases for volunteer management, to producing videos and other organizational materials. The approach has been incredibly successful, both for Umpqua and for the communities we serve: last year, 93 percent of our associates participated in the Connect Volunteer Network, volunteering 46,730 hours to more than 1,750 organizations.

Regardless of your nonprofit's mission, values, or programmatic approach, it, too, can tap into the corporate philanthropy renaissance that is leveraging the best of what motivates and inspires people to make a positive impact in their companies and communities. People with the skills and commitment to your cause are just a phone call away. What are you waiting for?

-- Nicole Stein

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Pfffft....what a scam! It's how companies are union busting and it doesn't cost them anything.

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