By Suzanne M. Akian
Volunteering can run the gamut from helping pick up litter on streets and beaches, to serving meals at a soup kitchen, to building playscapes for children in needy neighborhoods.
In the corporate world, volunteerism is becoming a major component of determining the firm’s values. Asking what companies are doing philanthropically is becoming just as important to many potential investors as profits and balance sheets.
We all can benefit through volunteerism, whether we take direct action such as mentoring young students, or fund-raising for worthy causes. Childhood hunger is one such cause.
With schools closed for summer vacation, one million children will lose access to national school lunch and breakfast programs, with more than 13 million children in the United States at risk of hunger. In New York City, one in five children relies on a soup kitchen or food pantry to eat.
Helping children get a healthy start in life, whether through food initiatives, building playgrounds, or even helping fund a pediatric hospital, is a core value for many volunteers and corporations who believe in helping their communities, commendable on both corporate and individual levels.
Many employees are encouraged — and in cases expected — to volunteer for charitable causes, since volunteerism has become part of corporate culture. The level of corporate volunteerism often is considered a window on the values of a corporation’s leadership. And, not surprisingly, corporate volunteering may even help boost corporate earnings through increased productivity.
Companies have found that when employees volunteer they feel a greater sense of purpose, and there is a noticeable increase in morale — which can lead to increased productivity, as well as lower turnover. Volunteering also is seen as a valued component of leadership training, in areas including project management, goal setting, problem solving, and communications.
Oddly enough, while volunteerism is being held in higher esteem in corporate America, the rate of participation has dropped in the past several years. This disparity between the increased perception of volunteerism as a yardstick for determining social responsibility, and the declining rates of volunteering could become a factor as investors increasing look to impact investing, when deciding where to put their money.
Volunteerism can also forge strong bonds between employees and hone interpersonal skills. Basically, there is no downside for companies and communities to foster a climate of volunteerism, especially if they are looking for investors.
Suzanne M. Akian is a financial advisor with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in New York, NY. She can be reached at 212-613-6773.