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Education Tops List of Corporate Volunteer Projects

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WASHINGTON--Nearly three-quarters of corporate volunteer programs focus on education, placing it at the top of a list of critical issues targeted by these programs, according to a report released last week.

In a study published by the Conference Board and the Points of Light Foundation, 74 percent of respondents said their corporate volunteer programs focus on education. Other areas of concern include health (47 percent), youths in crisis (47 percent), the environment (41 percent), and the homeless (41 percent).

The report is based on the results of a questionnaire distributed to 1,800 corporations last May, of which 454, or about 25 percent, completed and returned the survey. Researchers also conducted telephone interviews with representatives of 30 companies and conducted site visits to some volunteer programs.

"Here [in education] the corporate-volunteer effort is the greater, and here the payoff is the largest,'' said Leon Martel, the senior vice president for research at the Conference Board, a research and information organization for some of the nation's largest companies.

Speaking at a press conference here last week, Mr. Martel observed that many U.S. companies have made education a top priority of their volunteer efforts because of its obvious relationship to improving the nation's workforce.

Improved Community Ties

In addition, he noted, these programs can help companies improve their relationships with the communities in which they operate.

In a corporate tutoring program at a school, for example, "when employees teach, they do so as representatives of the companies at which they are employed,'' Mr. Martel said. "They become their company's defenders to their students and to themselves.''

Among the survey's other findings:

  • Many volunteer programs have become a more formal part of their sponsoring firm's strategic goals. Half of the respondents said that community service is part of their company's mission statement, and 31 percent said they use volunteer programs "as part of their strategy to address critical business issues.''
  • Sixty-eight percent of the corporations allow release time for employees interested in volunteering during work hours.
  • In contrast, however, the leading obstacle to expanding volunteer programs--cited by 51 percent of respondents--was a lack of employee time to participate.

Among the other barriers, 35 percent of respondents cited administrative costs, 28 percent blamed lack of middle-management support, 19 percent attributed it to employee apathy, and 8 percent to lack of support from the company's chief executive officer.

Although the recent recession has led to employee layoffs, the report notes, the percentage of employees who participate in volunteer activities has risen.

"This development is surprising in light of findings that heavier workloads are taxing workers at all levels,'' the report notes. "Executives interviewed for this study also agree that in uncertain times people have more need for the sense of doing something good and meaningful.''

Copies of the report, "Corporate Volunteer Programs: Benefits to Business'' are available for $20 each by calling Susanne Favretto at the Points of Light Foundation, (202) 223-9186, extension 128.

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