From Cubicle to Classroom: Corporate Volunteerism in a Purpose Economy

Companies that give their employees time to volunteer and bring greater meaning to their careers are doing it with purpose.
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For over 30 years I've witnessed the power of purpose and citizenship to galvanize and ignite employees' commitment to their companies. When employees discover the connection between what they do and what a company stands for, "magic" happens; they become more thoroughly engaged, motivated, productive, innovative, loyal and committed.

As the Founder and Executive Director of Community-Word Project, a small arts education not-for-profit, I see how corporate volunteerism adds value to our mission in NYC public schools. I love seeing the volunteers from BlackRock, HBO, and Linklaters engage with our students in the classroom. It is especially gratifying to see those volunteers who give back enthusiastically year after year.

"Grateful. Yes," says Gail Sharbaan of BlackRock, "that is my deepest emotion right now... I am grateful to have helped a child, to have participated in CWP's program and to have this wonderful feeling. My heart felt full."

BlackRock has a corporate volunteer program that provides Gail and her colleagues with paid volunteer hours to spend working with CWP students. Gail has been volunteering with us for two years. It is clear to me why her company does it. If you saw how proud Gail is to be a BlackRock-er, in large part because she can spend time volunteering, it all makes sense. The same holds true for our volunteers from HBO and Linklaters.

During the school year 2013-2014, corporate volunteers helped nearly 300 students edit over 200 poems, paint four large canvas murals and attended student performances at PS 84, Brooklyn; PS/MS 279, Bronx; PS 676, Brooklyn; and PS 132, Manhattan.

Companies that give their employees time to volunteer and bring greater meaning to their careers are doing it with purpose. Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative and the founder of Taproot Foundation, speaks about this growing movement in The Purpose Economy. He describes a fourth economy, "where purpose is the primary driver of economic output."

If you think about it, we make decisions with intention and purpose now more than ever. From shopping and eating local products to choosing a brand that gives back to the community, from supporting each other's startups to volunteering for a cause, meaning and purpose are the driving forces behind our desire to make the world a better place.

A new breed of startups -- like Etsy, Zaarly, Tough Mudder, Kickstarter, and Airbnb -- are finding new ways to create value by connecting us with our local communities. At the same time, companies like Tesla and Whole Foods, are making the march from just appealing to affluent buyers to becoming mainstream brands. Hurst calls these companies -- along with the pioneering entrepreneurs who founded them -- the purpose economy's "taste-makers."

It makes sense that corporations are encouraging and pioneering the purpose economy. While this movement is gaining momentum, only as recently as "a 2013 survey of employers by the Society for Human Resource Management," says Jenna Wollemann of Edelman Chicago, "just 20 percent of employers said they gave employees paid time off to volunteer. Companies are slow to make employee volunteerism programs a priority, despite evidence that states instigating employee volunteerism programs has a positive return on investment."

I'm proud of the partnerships we have with HBO, Linklaters and BlackRock. Three different companies, each with unique personalities, share a meaningful philosophy of citizenship. They ensure that their employees get the "feel good" benefit of the company's investment in the community.

In Josh Bersin's, It's Time To Rethink The 'Employee Engagement' Issue, he refers to Joey Reiman's, The Story of Purpose, "people are not motivated by the bottom line - they want to feel like they're a part of something bigger than themselves." Reiman writes about "expanding Social Responsibility to Social Opportunity."

What is the Social Opportunity when corporations develop partnerships with not-for-profits? The return on investment of Social Opportunity is that the corporate volunteers become passionately engaged in an authentic activity with our students. The students benefit most when they receive individualized attention to their creative work and their expressions of hope through writing, visual arts, and performance. It all circles back to intention and living one's life purposefully.

Our ultimate hope is that the Purpose Economy will grow exponentially. Perhaps a 2020 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management will find the percentage of employers who offer paid volunteerism will skyrocket.

We are a secret whisper, a prayer, a big splash.
-poetry line by Community-Word Project 3rd Grader at P.S. 132 in New York City

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