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Workplace volunteers benefit communities, companies, and employees


Wells Fargo branch managers participate in Habitat for Humanity of Anchorage’s volunteer build.

Image courtesy of Wells Fargo

Organizations in Alaska support a plethora of workplace volunteering initiatives that encourage employees to donate their time and talents to charitable causes. Their efforts not only improve the health of communities throughout the state but also enhance the lives of employees and their employers.


United Way of Anchorage Bridging the Gap

As a major proponent of workplace volunteerism, United Way of Anchorage meshes together the efforts of numerous companies and nonprofits throughout Alaska. It facilitates volunteer opportunities for organizations in two primary ways: Day of Caring and Be the Change 907.org.

Day of Caring is United Way’s signature annual event, and it gives Anchorage companies an organized way to give back to the community. As part of the initiative, United Way recruits projects from nonprofits and offers them to different businesses. “This is a big day of companies bringing their employees to specific organizations where work is needed to be done,” says Elizabeth Miller, vice president of resource development. “The companies provide the time off for employees to do that work, and it’s seen as a great team builder.”

In recent years, twenty to thirty companies— and 300 to 400 employees—participated in Day of Caring.

With Be the Change 907.org, the United Way manages an online database of volunteers. The website is part of the agency’s goal to mobilize people and resources to make lasting, measurable changes designed to improve lives in the community.

Another key undertaking of United Way of Anchorage is 90% by 2020, which strives to achieve an Anchorage high school graduation rate of 90 percent by the year 2020. “Over the last twelve years, we have made huge strides; we have risen from 59 percent to 80 percent,” Miller says. “And we have another 10 percent to go in the next few years. This effort takes everybody doing their part.”

Some of the volunteer opportunities involved with 90% by 2020 range from one-on-one tutoring and mentoring to providing homework support. Part of the initiative is ensuring that the community is supporting not just their own children, but also their neighbors’ kids. The whole community must have high expectations for Anchorage’s children, Miller says. The Chalk the Walk program supports 90% by 2020 by having volunteers show up before the first day of school to write encouraging words for students on the sidewalks. “When they come to school, they see messages like ‘We believe in you!’ and ‘Good Job!’” Miller explains. “The volunteers have a great time doing it, the kids love seeing it, and it leads to success.”

United Way of Anchorage also gives aid to families to improve their financial stability and increase their income by providing a Volunteer Tax Prep service. Offered in partnership with the IRS and AARP, the service is helping families save up to several hundred dollars in tax preparation and receive a larger tax refund. Last year, about 5,400 families saved more than $1 million in tax prep services, bringing in $7 million in refunds and tax credits that could be spent on various necessities.

Each year, United Way of Anchorage has almost 1,500 volunteers donating more than 25,000 hours of their time. This includes volunteers involved with Day of Caring, its Board of Directors, fundraising, and Volunteer Tax Prep. United Way’s promotion of corporate volunteering has a significant impact on everyone involved, according to Miller.


ConocoPhillips Alaska Driven by Accountability

ConocoPhillips Alaska believes in being accountable to the people and communities where it operates. “Helping improve the quality of life in the communities where we live and work is a fundamental value for ConocoPhillips and our employees,” says Portia Babcock, director of government and community affairs. “We do that by funding worthy causes, by lending a helping hand where it's needed most, and by working diligently to build inclusive, honest, and respectful relationships with our stakeholders.”

The company’s employees are friends, neighbors, teachers, and coaches who volunteer for organizations such as The American Red Cross, Bean's Cafe, Camp Fire Alaska, and Habitat for Humanity. In 2016, ConocoPhillips’ employee-driven programs and volunteerism contributed about $1.24 million to Alaska nonprofits, and its employees volunteered more than 3,500 hours helping their neighbors throughout the state, according to Babcock.

ConocoPhillips Alaska promotes workplace volunteering through a variety of popular and successful programs. For example, with activity grants it donates $100 per qualifying employee/retiree participant to the 501(c)3 organization hosting the event. The grant funding is often used to support employee/retiree participation in charity runs, walks, and rides.

Through individual volunteer grants, ConocoPhillips Alaska contributes $500 for every twenty hours an employee/retiree volunteers for a qualifying 501(c)3 organization, with a limit of two individual grants per year. And under team volunteer grants, the company gives $1,000 for a team of four or more eligible employees and/or retirees volunteering on a specific project to support a qualifying 501(c)3 organization. “Each team grant requires a combined total of at least forty hours of volunteer service at the same location on the same date,” Babcock says.

In addition, ConocoPhillips Alaska donates $500 for every twenty hours an employee/retiree volunteers for a qualifying 501(c)6 organization. It also maintains a Matching Gift Program in which employee contributions to 501(c)3 organizations and nonprofit schools that have appropriate regional or professional accreditation are matched by ConocoPhillips dollar-for-dollar, up to $10,000 annually. Retiree contributions are matched dollar-for-dollar to a maximum of $5,000 annually.


First National Bank Alaska Lending a Hand

At First National Bank Alaska, employees are lending a hand and supporting community activities where they live, work, and play. For example, bank officers are encouraged to lend their financial and organizational expertise to local nonprofit and civic organizations by volunteering as Board Members and committee chairs.

“The bank donates more than $1 million annually to Alaska nonprofits and community groups in the communities where we do business,” says Community Relations Manager Natasha Pope. “Requests for support from these organizations often originate from or are supported by bank employees involved in the nonprofit’s community work. Last year alone, more than 250 nonprofit and civic organizations received employee volunteer hours and monetary contributions from the bank.”

Through optional reporting by employees serving on various nonprofit boards and committees, as well as other bank-sponsored volunteer service activities, First National’s workplace volunteering averages about 6,000 hours annually. “These hours represent an approximate value of nearly $145,000 benefiting our nonprofit partners and communities,” Pope says.

That $145,000, incidentally, is based on Independent Sectors’ 2017 estimate that values a volunteer’s time at $24.14 per hour. Independent Sector is “the only national organization that brings together nonprofits, foundations, and corporations engaged in every kind of charitable endeavor,” says the organization’s website. The value of the bank’s volunteer hours is likely much high than that of some other, lower-paying positions since bank officers provide specialized technical assistance specific to their profession that is typically valued at a higher amount than some other professions, Pope says.

One example of the bank’s support of workplace volunteering is through its role as a devoted partner of United Way Alaska since its early roots in 1956 when Lucy Hon Cuddy— the grandmother of the bank’s chair and president, Betsy Lawer—led the first community drive. Throughout the years, First National’s employees have continued the tradition, serving in various roles to support United Way and its community initiatives and affiliated nonprofits.

“Employees can be found volunteering in classrooms through Junior Achievement of Alaska, feeding hungry adults at Bean’s Cafe in Anchorage, coaching young athletes at Boys and Girls Clubs, and mentoring young Alaskans in the Big Brothers Big Sisters programs in communities across the state,” Pope says.

The value of First National Bank Alaska’s employees volunteering in their community is at the heart of its belief in Alaska, where the success of Alaska is reflected in the success of its citizens, Pope says. The bank’s employees play vital roles in their communities, participating as involved, passionate members of local and statewide community and civic groups as well as knowledgeable volunteer leaders with nonprofit organizations. “The beneficiaries are Alaskans, our friends, neighbors, customers, and fellow citizens,” Pope says. “Reaching out with a helping hand is a long tradition in Alaska. Actions speak louder than words, and First National has always made a point to demonstrate our belief in the success of Alaska.”

GCI 2016 Polar Plunge jump.

Image courtesy of GCI

GCI Giving Back to Friends and Neighbors

GCI encourages employees to donate their time to charities and community events through its Community Service Program. The program provides the company’s full-time employees with sixteen hours of paid time each year to volunteer with community organizations. And employees can divide their time however they choose, which gives them the option to volunteer at more than one charity.

GCI also donates more than $2 million in cash, services, and scholarships annually, according to company spokeswoman Heather Handyside.

Employees of GCI can support any organization or charity of their choosing through the Community Service Program. Over the years, they have participated and donated to a wide range of charities and organizations, including Boy and Girl Scouts of America, Bartlett Regional Hospital [in Juneau], Blood Bank of Alaska, Bread Line’s Stone Soup Café, Suitcases for Kids, Meals on Wheels, the Alaska SeaLife Center, and The Salvation Army. Workplace volunteering, Handyside says, gives employees the opportunity to step out from behind their desks and make a difference in the community by donating their time, money, and skills to organizations they are truly passionate about, enhancing the quality of life for Alaskans.

In order to be a good neighbor and a valuable part of the communities it serves, it’s important for GCI to give back, Handyside says. “We’re proud that our employees volunteer thousands of hours each year through GCI’s Community Service Program, lending a helping hand to friends and neighbors in need and helping make Alaska a better place,” she says.


Wells Fargo Alaska Nurtures a Culture of Caring

A culture of caring is a defining quality of Wells Fargo. “We care for our internal team members, and, externally, we really and truly love to volunteer,” says Wells Fargo Alaska Community Development Manager Judith Crotty. “The other philosophy we have is that our success as a Fortune 500 company is linked to our success in building healthy communities.”

Workplace volunteerism, she says, is about employees taking their time, talent, and treasure and utilizing them to match their passion with community need. For instance, a critical community need across Alaska is affordable housing. To address that problem, Wells Fargo operates an Affordable Housing Foundation with an active team member volunteer program. Through the program, employees are encouraged to donate their time to a housing building project. For every sixty hours that members work on a building project, Wells Fargo makes a $15,000 investment toward the employee’s agency of choice.

In November, Wells Fargo is hosting a team building project that will involve homeless high school students through Covenant House. In fact, Wells Fargo will be engaging the youth to lead the project and work alongside its team members. “Afterward, we will have a workshop with folks who do affordable housing,” Crotty says. “Hopefully, this will encourage the youth participants that they can one day become homeowners.”

Wells Fargo also nurtures volunteering efforts through team member networks, which are affiliate groups that anyone can launch or join. Current team member networks in Alaska include Alaska Native, Asian, Pride, and Veterans groups. The networks do not receive monetary donations, but they create an internal circle of camaraderie in which employees are able to support activities related to their membership group.

Last year, Wells Fargo team members in Alaska volunteered 11,500 hours in the community. The benefits of their service are manifold. Studies show that a company’s social responsibility has a direct correlation with employee retention, according to Crotty. Employees tend to enjoy working where there is a specific identified culture of social responsibility. In addition, workplace volunteering creates an element of camaraderie and closeness that employees cannot get from the office alone. And as a bonus, it makes people feel good when they give to others.

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