About two years ago, Brett Rose joined the board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Granting children's wishes, he says, made him feel like a superhero. As CEO of a Fort Lauderdale consumer goods wholesaler, he brought his new passion for volunteering into his workplace. "It's not a job requirement, but I highly encourage my people to get involved in community service," Rose says. Amid a recession that has strained corporate donations of time and money, volunteerism still is strong. In 2008, even while charitable giving declined for the first time in more than 20 years, the rate of volunteerism increased from 26.2 percent to 26.4 percent, according to the Corporation for National and Community service.
Studies show fear of the time commitment typically holds people back from volunteering, particularly with many workers putting in longer hours on the job.
Much like families, if leaders at the top believe in the value of volunteerism the movement permeates the workplace. Some bosses recognize it as a way to engage employees. Others see worker involvement in local organizations as a way to get community recognition or build the brand.
Rose, of United National Consumer Suppliers, says his employees initiated weekly contributions from their paychecks to sponsor a $5,000 wish for a child with a life-threatening condition. "My employees have a stronger bond with the company because it supports their lives outside the office."
Imagine working for a company that pays you to volunteer. At Hospital Corporation of America, an employee may take up to 24 hours of paid volunteer leave each year. When that employee adds just one more hour of personal time, HCA will contribute $500 to the charity.
Businesses that depend on the community for support understand the bottom-line benefit of giving back.
This year, the Miami Dolphins Foundation hired a manager for its new community volunteer program. It will recruit people from the community to work with the Dolphins on volunteer opportunities throughout South Florida; some will be players' pet community projects, others will be for organizations that ask for help.
The Dolphins kicked off their Special Teams program with a volunteer-a-thon to get employees and community members involved, using unique incentives. It will offer volunteers a chance to redeem hours for rewards such as a tour of the team's locker room.
Adam Grossman, senior vice president of public affairs, says the Dolphins are encouraging their 250 employees to participate. "We saw what the players were doing on their days off and it gave us inspiration to create this program," Grossman said.
Even when the volunteering is encouraged, making time can be challenging with a heavy work schedule.
Frank McKinney, who runs a South Florida real estate business and the Caring House Project Foundation, says he encourages his employees to start slow and choose well.
"You need to put your finger on a passion," he said. "For me, it was feeding the homeless because I am in housing and wanted to help those that don't have a home."
McKinney thinks almost any boss can be convinced to start a corporate volunteer program. Come in with a plan, he says. "Think of ways to help those who are struggling and raise awareness for your business."
Brenda Yester, vice president of revenue management at Carnival Cruise Lines, has seen that creating a culture of volunteerism at work can start with one employee.
At her company's Miramar office, one person started a massive toy drive that led to a variety of other fundraisers at the location. "It's become part of that office's culture now," Yester said.
She thinks she is setting an example for her employees and her son as chairwoman of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida, even on the days when it takes superhero juggling of time demands. "Balance is hard so you have to know what you are able to do. Some people can write a check. Some can spend an afternoon pounding some nails."
From their perspective, employees says corporate encouragement creates loyalty.
Jennifer Jerema, a banker, understands her job is her priority. However, being a board member of Susan G. Komen For the Cure South Florida makes her feel complete, she says. "It gives me another avenue to feel I've made something of my day."
Her company BankUnited, benefits too, she says: "It gives them positive publicity in the community."