Magazine article Personnel Journal

Structure Supports Volunteer Efforts

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Structure Supports Volunteer Efforts

Article excerpt

Margie Blakney works as an HR assistant at Union Planters National Bank in Memphis, Tennessee. Her job keeps her busy, but never too busy to work as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer in the state's juvenile court system. Last year, Blakney donated more than 200 hours of her time, reviewing child-custody cases and offering her recommendations to various judges. "It makes me feel good to know that I'm helping children," she says.

As impressive as Blakney's commitment to CASA is, she's just one of approximately 960 employees at Union Planters who donate their time through the bank's volunteer program, IMPACT (Individuals Making Progress And Changing Tomorrow). In 1992 alone, more than half of the organization's employees combined to donate nearly 40,000 volunteer hours to more than 200 agencies throughout Tennessee. Translated into dollars, those hours add up to approximately $400,000.

According to Mary Galligan, director of corporate services for the Points of Light Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that was set up to promote community service, Union Planters isn't alone. As budgets for corporate contributions dwindle, companies increasingly are organizing employee-volunteer programs to tackle the increasing social problems in their communities.

This approach has been particularly successful because, as Galligan points out, "Money alone won't solve the problems that are out there; people who have intelligence, skills and time will."

With this philosophy in mind, Union Planters organized its IMPACT program 10 years ago. The bank decided that it would be better to spend its dollars supplementing employees who wanted to do community volunteer work. "You can throw dollars at a program, but it doesn't always solve the problem," says Becky Davis, Union Planters' assistant vice president for community relations and director of IMPACT. "When employees come to us and say that they're involved in a program and need our support, it helps us put our dollars to better use."

The volunteer efforts of Union Planters' employees are broad-based, ranging from literacy training or building low-income housing to sponsoring local schools or helping individuals develop job skills. Regardless of whom the company helps, the response is always the same. "Union Planters' cooperation has been very important to our organization," says Betty Anne Wilson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity.

Adds Irene Templeton, chapter director of March of Dimes, West Tennessee Chapter, "IMPACT most definitely has made a difference in the city of Memphis." IMPACT's success hasn't gone unnoticed. In addition to receiving numerous local and national awards, the Points of Light Foundation uses the program as a model for similar programs at other companies.

What's notable about IMPACT is that it contains three elements that are critical to running a corporate volunteer program: support from the top, structure and employee recognition. IMPACT inspires other companies for more important reason. Explains Galligan, "It proves that you don't have to be IBM to make a difference in your community."

VOLUNTEER EFFORTS BEGAN IN THE EARLY 1900S. Support from the top for volunteer efforts at Union Planters began in the early 1900s with the company's Triangle Club. This support continued in the early 1980s, when a panel of eight employees, including one from HR, revised the Triangle Club to increase employee participation. When the panel presented what now is the foundation of IMPACT, the chairman of the board loved the idea so much that he allocated $10,000 toward its development. Davis, who also serves as chairperson of the National Council on Corporate Volunteerism, says that management support is a No. 1 priority. "You can't run a volunteer program on lip service. It won't work." she says.

Throwing money alone into a corporate volunteer program doesn't constitute management support, however. …

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