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Changing the World Through Your Workplace

More time spent at work means less time for volunteering and philanthropy. But there are ways to put your ideals to work in the office.

The following is an excerpt from The Handbook to Building a Better Worldby with Stephanie Land by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2009 by Action Without Borders.

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is a challenge for many idealists, even when we love our work. When you're getting up at the crack of dawn to get ready for a long commute, then scrambling to get your job done while juggling meetings, emails, clients, and your supervisors' demands, before making the long commute back, it can be hard to fit in other things you enjoy doing, like exercise, hobbies, seeing the latest movie, and yes, do-gooding. More and more time spent at the workplace means less personal time to use for volunteering, board service, or philanthropy.

Luckily, more and more companies are recognizing the morale-boosting effects, not to mention the public relations value, of setting up opportunities for employees to volunteer and donate to various organizations. Even if you don't work for a big company, your employer may contribute to your community more than you realize, and we'll point out some of the ways you can make the most of those contributions by getting involved. If you find that your workplace in fact doesn't participate in any charitable or philanthropic activities, this chapter will offer a number of ways in which you can help get them started, even if you're not the owner or an executive.

How Companies Contribute

The Fortune 500 firms get a lot of press for their charitable and philanthropic efforts throughout the world, and rightfully so. But small- and medium- size businesses -- the ones many of us work for -- contribute a tremendous amount to their local and statewide communities.

Without the generosity of American businesses, in fact, most nonprofit organizations simply wouldn't look the same. Some of the ways in which companies engage with local or regional nonprofits are:


Often when you go past a ball field, you'll see a group of kids wearing matching uniforms with, say, Pino's Pizzeria emblazoned on the back. The ball team needs uniforms, the pizzeria needs name recognition, together they provide a mutual benefit -- the kids get the uniforms, the pizzeria gets some advertising. You might also notice that local businesses often sponsor citywide events, such as parades and festivals, or contribute food, T-shirts, or supplies to neighborhood cleanups. Again, the businesses' participation makes a win-win possible for everyone involved -- the city boosts civic pride, the community comes together, and local business profits from the marketing, advertising, and goodwill stemming from the event. In addition, there's media sponsorship, where radio, TV, or newspapers will promote an event in exchange for mentions in press releases or space on banners.

Corporate Volunteerism

Corporate volunteer programs have become increasingly popular in the American workplace, especially since the benefits of volunteerism to the company, in addition to the nonprofit or the employee, are now well documented. There are three benefits that are universally cited:

1. More loyal, more productive employees

2. A positive public image

3. Improved management, leadership, public relations, and marketing opportunities for the business

In addition, many companies have learned that employees who are given the chance to participate in skilled volunteering actually enhance their value to the business because they are able to develop leadership techniques and practice their skills in ways they might not be able to at the office.

Corporate volunteer programs can take many different forms:

1. Employees independently volunteer and seek individual support from their employer.

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