Employees Want To Give 'Til it Helps

Employees Want To Give 'Til it Helps

By Gail Repsher Emery, Staff Writer

Employees at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Data & Management Services division in King of Prussia, Pa., start planning the annual Friend's Christmas project months ahead of time.

"People are calling us in the middle of October ... and they've already started doing little fund-raisers," said Joe Autovino, a systems analyst who has run the 13-year-old program since it began. Each year employees adopt about 125 families and 60 senior citizens through community organizations, supplying them with food, clothing and gifts.

Employees at Robbins-Gioia Inc., a project management consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., always attend the annual pizza lunch for the United Way.

"They know their money is going toward a good cause," said Kristie Evans, who manages the company's United Way campaign.

At WareonEarth Communications Inc. in Annandale, Va., employees are looking to expand their partnership with nearby Wakefield Forest Elementary School so they can routinely update the wireless computer network they installed.

"We think it's important to be a part of the community from the outset, not wait until we're a billion-dollar company," said Bill Flynn, chief executive officer of the two-year-old, peer-to-peer communications firm. Flynn's two children attend the school.

These workers aren't alone in their enthusiasm for charitable giving. Human resources experts said volunteerism has increased during the last five years because employees today expect their jobs to be more than work, and because their employers have a greater sense of corporate responsibility.

"It used to be that companies strong-armed employees to participate in the United Way campaign, and that's all companies did," said Rebecca Hastings, an information specialist at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria.

In recent years, Hastings said, companies have become active community members by undertaking activities such as tutoring schoolchildren and serving meals at homeless shelters.

Employers know, too, that "you can't just give employees a paycheck," Hastings said. "They want to find more meaning in their day-to-day jobs. They want to volunteer."

According to a report issued Nov. 25 by the President's Council of Economic Advisers, charitable giving reached a record high in 1999, with Americans donating more than $190 billion, a 41 percent increase since 1995. In 1998, citizens gave about 20 billion hours volunteering for charitable organizations. Their time and money supported about 1.6 million nonprofit organizations and religious organizations in the United States.

Growth in income and wealth of the population explains much of the increase in charitable giving, said the report, "Philanthropy in the American Economy." Average net worth for the families analyzed grew by an estimated 28 percent between 1992 and 1998. Between 1995 and 1999, corporations increased their giving by more than 38 percent.

Corporate giving is often driven by individual contributions, the report said. Marjorie Bynum, an information technology work force expert, agreed.

"[Corporate giving] is about asking employees what's important to them," said Bynum, vice president of work force development at the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va.

"It starts with employees saying 'We need to diversify, or we need to work with young girls or people with disabilities.' "

Many activities begin with the interest of a few workers. That group sparks the interest of other employees, increasing participation and launching other endeavors. That's just what happened at systems integrators Computer Sciences Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., and Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md.

A few years ago, about five workers started a philanthropy committee at CSC's Washington-area consulting group. They began by using their technology skills at Falls Church High School in Virginia.

CSC now sponsors about 30 activities with the school each year, including an art show, tutoring and leadership training.

The high school partnership sparked other activities, including work with the housing organization Habitat for Humanity and the design of Web pages for nonprofit organizations. To expand their reach, a group of employees recently formed a philanthropy council among all CSC units in the Washington area.

"It's fun. It's rewarding," said Phillip Sturke, professional development manager in the Washington business unit of CSC's consulting group. "As we gained success, it made sense to expand to other [CSC] organizations in the D.C. area."

The organizations supported by Lockheed Martin's Management & Data Services employees are so numerous that Tracy Carter Dougherty takes a deep breath before listing them: Valley Forge National Historical Park, Ronald McDonald Houses, nursing homes, Habitat for Humanity, and more.

The largest effort, Friend's Christmas, draws the participation of nearly all Management & Data Services employees and brings retirees back to help. It requires a week of Autovino's vacation time and a 3,000-square-foot warehouse space for all the goods collected.

Still, it's not quite enough for the Management & Data Services group. "We're always looking for new projects," said Dougherty, president of the King of Prussia Chapter of the company's 2,000-member Network of Volunteer Associates. Like Sturke at CSC, her goal is to expand the volunteer organization to other Lockheed Martin business units.

"We are major employers in the community," she said. "One of our values is community service. One of the best ways we've found to give back to our communities is through volunteerism."

Recipients of Lockheed Martin's charity said the contributions are invaluable.

"Without volunteers, especially Lockheed Martin, we couldn't even operate," said Virginia Frantz, executive director of the Senior Adult Activity Center of Montgomery County in Norristown, Pa.

Tom McNichol, a historical interpreter at Valley Forge National Historical Park, said the database of nearly 30,000 soldiers who served at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War wouldn't have been possible without Lockheed Martin employees. "Not in my lifetime," said McNichol, who spent seven years compiling the records before about 30 Lockheed Martin employees donated more than 2,000 hours to build the database and log the data.

For Tom Griffin, who built the database, this effort had special meaning. "There are so many people like me who use the [Valley Forge] park, and there is so much meaning to the park that it's a payback [to the community]," said the Lockheed Martin security operations IT manager. "I never got one complaint from one volunteer, because everybody was so excited."

That feel-good factor is important, employers said, because employees want to like where they work.

"It shows our employees that we are not just here to make a quick buck," said Flynn of WareonEarth.

At Robbins-Gioia, "a lot of people feel very positively toward the company because we've taken an interest in their interests," said Patricia Davis-Muffett, director of marketing.

The company sponsors activities that interest individual employees, including marathons, a mock jail lockup and a horse ride-a-thon to benefit the Center for Therapeutic Riding in Burtonsville, Md.

With employees working in 60 locations, management support is particularly important, Davis-Muffett said.

"It's a way to let them know that even though they're not here in our corporate headquarters, Robbins-Gioia is in their community," she said.

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