As the news drumbeat continues about high unemployment, falling home values and cutbacks in key government services, it is clear to all of us that we are living with significantly fewer financial resources and greater social challenges.
As Thomas Friedman has written, “We are leaving an era where to be a mayor, governor, senator or president was, on balance, to give things away to people. We are now entering an era where to be a leader will mean, on balance, to take things away from people.”
However, even amid these strained circumstances and hard choices, we owe it to future generations to find innovative ways to transform our communities in the crucial areas of education, economy and the environment.
As we make these difficult decisions about where to invest our resources, there is one great asset we can call upon — the time, talent, voice and resources of people harnessed to solve community problems.
We are a nation of immense talent. Think of the technology revolution our entrepreneurs have created with Google, Facebook and smartphone apps. Think of the marketing and distribution expertise that have made the Coca-Cola Co. and Starbucks two of the strongest brands in the world.
Many of these entrepreneurs and companies are applying their unique talents to the nonprofit world as well. We are seeing a tremendous growth in interest in and deployment of skills-based and pro bono resources to the independent sector. In a 2010 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, 60 percent of respondents said their employees participate in skills-based volunteering.
Never before in our history have we had more people — more highly educated, better-equipped with specialized skills — looking for ways to give back to their communities.
Corporations are leading the way in tapping and focusing their people’s considerable skills to create meaningful change. IBM is celebrating its 100th anniversary this week in an extraordinary way. More than 300,000 IBM employees in 120 countries will be volunteering in 5,000 projects.
Pfizer is another great example of a company devoted to utilizing its employees’ skills, knowledge and resources. The Global Health Fellows Program is an international corporate volunteer program that places Pfizer colleagues in three- to six-month assignments with international development organizations. During assignments, fellows transfer their professional medical and business expertise.
Skills-based volunteering not only helps create change in communities, it can also help companies advance their business goals. Workers learn new leadership skills, develop expertise outside their main focus and find innovative ways to accomplish change with limited resources. Corporate employee volunteer programs consistently increase employee engagement and engender loyalty. Deloitte found that 52 percent of employees involved in volunteer programs report feeling very loyal to their companies and are nearly twice as likely to be very satisfied with their career progression.
In fact, the millennial generation, now just entering the workforce, is seeking employers that contribute to improving the world. Deloitte studies have found this generation to be global, civic-minded, tech-savvy and eager to make a difference. More than 60 percent of millennials say they are likely to factor a company’s commitment to the community into their decision about where to work. These are the future workers who will drive skills-based volunteering and shape the destiny of future businesses and our economy.
Michelle Nunn is CEO of Points of Light Institute and co-founder of HandsOn Network, based in Atlanta.
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