Best Practices in Employee Volunteerism: Corporate Volunteer Councils, Volunteer Centers, and Nonprofit Organizations Partner to Strengthen Communities and Improve Performance

by Chris Hahn, December 2003
published with permission


Corporate citizenship is becoming a critical business essential. Employees, investors, consumers, and the general public are exerting new demands and pressures on business, offering their loyalty, and dollars, in exchange for demonstrated ethical business practices, care of employees, safety and reliability of products and services, and investment in improving conditions in the community. Businesses have begun to realize that their bottom line, delivery of profitable products and services, reputation, and retention of high quality employees all depend on their commitment to responsible, community-centered business practices.

Corporate citizenship includes (Hitachi Foundation & Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, 2003):

  • Living your values
  • Practicing good governance and ethics
  • Being involved in communities
  • Creating value for stakeholders
  • Building trust and relationships
  • Being transparent and accountable
  • Providing safe, reliable products
  • Treating employees well
  • Having a positive, social impact
  • Contributing to a sustainable environment

More and more businesses are valuing corporate citizenship. A recent study by the Hitachi Foundation and The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College (2003) found that investment in corporate citizenship has increased or remained constant among most businesses. 82 percent of companies surveyed, large and small alike, believe that corporate citizenship should be a priority. 84 percent of these companies feel that working to improve the conditions in the local community is important or very important. A majority of businesses, regardless of size, provide cash, volunteer time, and/or goods and services to local communities.

Employee volunteerism has gained momentum as a critical component of corporate citizenship. As of 2003, 33 percent of companies have an employee volunteer program (Hitachi Foundation and The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, 2003). When survey respondents are limited to large corporations, this number leaps to 85 percent (The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, 2003). Employee volunteerism offers a tangible way for businesses to become more personally invested in tackling social problems, to strengthen employee skills and morale, and to cultivate a more positive and productive business environment.

Companies, employees, and the community reap the benefits of employee volunteerism. Some of these benefits include (The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, 1999):

  • Company Benefits
    • Improves relationships with surrounding community
    • Improves public image
    • Builds a cohesive, motivated workforce
    • Increases employee performance and productivity
    • Helps establish and enhance corporate or brand reputation in new or existing markets
  • Employee Benefits
    • Improves leadership and interpersonal skills
    • Reduces isolation and increases interaction with employees in other segments and levels of company
    • Adds variety and fulfillment and increases sense of self worth
    • Improves the community services employees and their families use
  • Community Benefits
    • Provides new talent and energy by increasing number of volunteers and pool of available skills
    • Increases understanding between businesses and nonprofit sector
    • Supports the quality of life in the community
    • Gives capacity to provide community services that otherwise might be impossible

Despite the advances in corporate citizenship and employee volunteerism, there remains significant room for improvement and expansion. For improvement and expansion to occur, several obstacles must be tackled. Companies identify lack of resources as the primary obstacle to corporate citizenship (identified by 46% of companies) (Hitachi Foundation & Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, 2003). Inadequate resources especially hinder small and medium sized agencies given their tighter budgets, particularly in the development of employee volunteer programs. Other obstacles include lack of senior and middle management support, lack of interest among employees, and inaction due to confusion over what "a good corporate citizen" means.

Fortunately, strategic partnerships are available to overcome these obstacles and to build the capacity to develop and maintain productive corporate citizenship activities, including employee volunteer programs.

Business/Corporate Volunteer Councils (B/CVCs) comprise one link in the partnership. B/CVCs are coalitions of businesses who either have active employee and/or retiree volunteer involvement program or are interested in starting such a program. The first B/CVC started in the early 1970's in New York, and since then, more than 100 B/CVCs have sprouted across the country. These coalitions enhance the effectiveness of employee volunteer program managers through networking, training, and access to best practices. B/CVCs not only benefit all business members from networking and collaboration, but small and medium sized participating firms benefit particularly as their capacity to pursue employee volunteerism is expanded through joint efforts with others. Together, these businesses can make more effective and sizable contributions to their communities.

Volunteer Centers comprise the second link in the partnership. Volunteer Centers perform as important liaisons between businesses and the nonprofit community, the third and final link in the partnership. Volunteer Centers not only link employee volunteers with nonprofits and pressing community needs, but they also have the capacity to provide administrative support to B/CVCs, providing training and technical assistance, provide information on local social problems, serve as a fiscal agent for employee volunteer programs, and partner with companies in promotional efforts. B/CVCs provide an effective and efficient means for businesses, Volunteer Centers, and nonprofits to work together to improve the community while fulfilling their own missions and needs.

Many successful partnerships among B/CVCs, Volunteer Centers, and nonprofit organizations have occurred across the nation and their visible contributions to the community have demonstrated the benefits of collaboration. These partnerships are not only helping to relieve community problems and needs, but they are helping Volunteer Centers to fulfill their mission, expanding the capacity of nonprofit organizations to serve their clients, improving employee morale and job satisfaction, and helping businesses improve their bottom line.

These partnerships are effective and necessary to improve conditions in communities throughout the U.S. Expansion of these partnerships is needed to expand their potential positive impact.

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Employee Volunteerism - A Valuable Corporate Citizenship Investment

Businesses are increasingly interested in being recognized as good corporate citizens, and employee volunteer programs are one of the best ways to demonstrate such a commitment. The growth in corporate citizenship efforts mirrors the growth in employee volunteer programs. In fact, Industry Week (1998) reports that the fastest growing corporate citizenship programs involve employee volunteerism. 36 percent of all U.S. workers report that their employees provide a formal volunteerism program in 2003, up 7 percent from 2001 (Walker Information, 2003). In another study conducted by the Hitachi Foundation and the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College (2003), 27 percent of businesses feel that they support their communities to a large extent through employee volunteers, and 28 percent feel that they do so to a moderate extent.

Employee volunteer programs have evolved over time to represent a wide range of activities. Beyond direct placement of an employee in a volunteer opportunity, employee volunteer programs can take three dominant forms (BusinessWeek, 2002).

One, businesses can establish flagship programs where volunteer efforts are clearly identified with their name. JP Morgan Chase has started a flagship volunteer program called Global Days of Service, an annual month of worldwide volunteer service. During the month of October, employees and retirees team up with family and friends to participate in hands-on service projects. In 2002, 20,000 JPMorgan Chase volunteers participated in more than 950 projects in 275 cities around the world.

Two, businesses can offer skill-based consultancies to nonprofits, including company expertise and/or technical assistance. America Online offers technical assistance to nonprofit organizations, schools, and individuals in disadvantaged communities so that they might use online resources and other technologies more effectively to further their goals.

Three, employees can plan and manage participation in community projects and organizations. Verizon Volunteers, an employee volunteer program of the Verizon Foundation, provides matching funds for nonprofit agencies where Verizon employees volunteer, thereby encouraging employees to spend more time and resources helping the agencies they care about the most. Verizon Volunteers gives employees the opportunity to donate up to an additional $23,750 a year to the nonprofit agencies of their choice based on their donation of time and money.

Employee volunteer programs fulfill many of the elements of corporate citizenship, including living your values, practicing good governance and ethics, building trust and relationships, and having a positive, social impact on the community. The benefits of employee volunteerism transcend these elements, though, and in many ways outperform the benefits offered by other types of community outreach, such as in-kind donations and financial contributions.

Employee volunteer programs provide measurable benefits for businesses, employees, nonprofit organizations, and beneficiaries. These benefits are demonstrated below:

  • Volunteer programs help workers perform their jobs, gain professional skills, team build, think creatively, and contribute to job satisfaction.
    • 97 percent of the 248 employee volunteer managers responding to one corporate survey thought employee volunteering provided a way to improve employee teamwork (Points of Light Foundation and Allstate Foundation, 2000).
    • 94 percent of U.S. corporate employee volunteer managers who responded to a survey thought employee volunteering provided a way to raise employee morale (Points of Light Foundation and Allstate Foundation, 2000).
  • Volunteer programs leverage the company's ability to attract and retain quality employees.
    • 58 percent use their employee volunteer program for recruiting and retaining employees (Points of Light Foundation and Allstate Foundation, 2000).
  • Volunteer programs improve corporate image and reputation.
    • A survey of employee volunteer managers found that 100 percent of respondents thought employee volunteering provided a way to improve company's image (Points of Light Foundation and Allstate Foundation, 2000)
  • Volunteer programs increase business due to the publicity gained from participation in community causes.
    • All other things being equal, 75 percent of Americans surveyed in 1997 said they would switch to a company involved with a good cause; in 2001, that number was up to 80 percent (Cone, Inc., 2002; Cone, Inc., 1997)
    • Companies that engaged in corporate social responsibility had a 10-year return on equity that was 10 percent higher than their counterparts and a 10-year relative return to shareholders that was 65 percent higher (Graves and Waddock, 2000)

Businesses must structure their employee volunteer programs strategically to maximize these benefits. The Points of Light Foundation (Principles of Excellence, 2002) has developed the following principles of excellence for successful and sustainable employee volunteer programs:

  • Acknowledge that your corporation's community service involvement and its employee volunteer efforts contribute to the achievement of its business goals,
  • Commit to establish, support and promote an employee volunteer program that encourages the involvement of every employee and treat it like any other core business function, and
  • Target community service efforts at serious social problems in the community.

Many businesses have achieved these standards of excellence in their employee volunteer programs. Some of these achievements are offered below:

  • Between 1992 and 1999, the number of companies using employee volunteer programs to benefit core business functions increased by 50 percent (Points of Light Foundation and Allstate Foundation, 2000).
  • 52 percent of companies stress a commitment to community service in their corporate mission statement to help build a cooperative corporate culture. Among companies with fewer than 500 employees, the rate is 30 percent (Points of Light Foundation and Allstate Foundation, 2000).
  • 44 percent of Fortune 500 companies (54 percent of those with formal employee volunteer programs) have employee volunteer programs with a mission, vision or purpose statement that includes business benefits (VeraWorks, 2002)
  • Senior management at 51 percent of Fortune 500 companies (62 percent among Fortune 500 companies with formal employee volunteer programs) are engaged in the leadership of employee volunteer program (VeraWorks, 2002).

Commitment to employee volunteerism is reflected in the methods businesses use to encourage and support employees to volunteer. These methods include the establishment of an appropriate and consistent system for publicizing volunteer opportunities and recruiting volunteers; offering paid release time for employees to volunteer; supporting employee contributions of time and money with matching funds; and recognizing volunteers for their efforts and dedication. For example, Right Management Consultants closes its D.C., Rockville and Fairfax offices at least one day annually to enable employee volunteers to play games and make crafts with children at Children's National Medical Center. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota operates a volunteer paid time off policy in conjunction with its employee volunteer program, Heart of Blue. Employees with at least six months of service have access to 20 hours of paid time off for volunteer service, provided the organization and activity adheres to company guidelines. Computers Associates honors employees who have made outstanding volunteer contributions to the community through the Distinguished Corporate Citizenship Award. Once per quarter, an employee based selection committee names the Distinguished Corporate Citizen of the Region. A $1,000 donation is made in the employee's name to a qualified, non-profit organization of his or her choice.

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Building the Capacity of Employee Volunteer Programs

Despite these demonstrated accomplishments, employee volunteer programs not only remain absent among the majority of businesses, but many of those that do exist are underdeveloped and under-resourced.

Lack of resources emerges as the primary obstacle to corporate citizenship. This obstacle is particularly a problem for small- and medium-sized businesses that operate smaller budgets and therefore lack the resources to designate funds towards the management of such activities, including employee volunteer programs. While these businesses keep pace with larger firms in valuing the environment and contributing to charity, large businesses are more apt to have employee volunteer programs, to work with government and nonprofits, and to have community development programs (Hitachi Foundation & Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, 2003).

Many established employee volunteer programs do not receive resources that are commensurate with other business functions. Among Fortune 500 companies, the average expenditure of company employee volunteer programs per employee is less than $15, compared to the average training expenditure per employee of over $350 in US companies overall (VeraWorks, 2002, and Van Buren and Erkskine, 2002). In addition, on average, Fortune 500 employee volunteer programs dedicate one staff person for every 5,600 days of employee volunteering (number of days of volunteering multiplied by number of involved employees), compared to one staff position for every 1,100 days of employee training for US firms overall (VeraWorks, 2002, and Van Buren and Erskine, 2002).

Established volunteer programs are also not managed as strategically as other business functions, particularly in terms of measurement and evaluation. VeraWorks (2002) reports that only 16 percent of Fortune 500 company employee volunteer programs have an annual process for systematically reviewing past performance and planning for the future. In addition, only 3 percent of Fortune 500 company employee volunteer programs develop written agreements with their nonprofit partners. Finally, only 6 percent of Fortune 500 company employee volunteer programs measure progress toward business or employee outcomes expressed in program's mission, vision, purpose, or goals statement.

Growth in volunteer programs has not necessarily produced more volunteers. Despite more employers offering formal programs, the personal involvement of employees remains virtually unchanged, at about one in every four (24% in 2003 and 23% in 2001) (Walker Information, 2003).

These deficiencies demonstrate the need for capacity-building partnerships in order to expand and improve employee volunteerism programs. Business/Corporate Volunteer Councils and Volunteer Centers offer such an opportunity.

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Corporate Volunteer Councils

Business/Corporate Volunteer Councils (B/CVCs) are coalitions of local businesses and corporations who either have active an employee and/or retiree volunteer involvement program, or are interested in starting such a program. In some communities, these councils are recognized as Corporate Volunteerism Councils and Business Volunteer Councils.

The first B/CVC emerged in the early 1970's out of the efforts of several company representatives who were trying to organize their own corporate volunteer programs in New York City. Their informal exchanges of ideas and information eventually progressed to become regular monthly meetings among half a dozen corporations. Presently, the group, known as Corporate Volunteers of New York, supports more than 40 corporations. Today, there are approximately 120 B/CVCs nationwide.

B/CVCs fulfill a variety of functions; selection of these functions depends on the needs of the local community and unique make-up of member businesses. The Points of Light Foundation (2001) offers many reasons why B/CVCs form. These reasons include, but are not limited to the following:

  • To network among peers
  • To increase visibility through joint projects
  • To provide an opportunity to share valuable resources
  • To promote corporate volunteerism in local communities
  • To provide avenues for professional development for member companies.
  • To provide recognition avenues for corporate volunteers in local communities.
  • To learn about community service agencies and their need for corporate resources.
  • To access best practices by exchanging information on employee/retiree volunteer programs.
  • To form partnerships to better impact social issues, particularly those too complex for one company to impact alone.

The structure of B/CVCs depends upon the mission, purpose, and objectives of the local council. These preferences determine membership, membership dues, governing body and staff, and meeting arrangements. Some B/CVCs restrict their membership to businesses, but others include other organizations such as colleges, universities, hospitals, etc. who have workplace programs. B/CVCs also may establish an associate or affiliate membership category for non-profit organizations, including Volunteer Centers, United Way, State or Governor's offices on volunteerism, Junior Leagues or Cares organizations.

The Points of Light Foundation, a national, nonprofit organization that advocates community service through a partnership with the Volunteer Center National Network, supports the formation and maintenance of B/CVCs. The Foundation's Corporate Affairs Department works with the business community to fulfill local needs and to meet strategic business goals. The department assists in the development of employee volunteer programs, B/CVCs, consultations and membership. In particular, the department helps to start, build, and sustain the capacity of B/CVC to achieve results in local community.

Participation among companies in B/CVCs has grown considerably over time. In 1999, more than 1,500 companies were members of network volunteer councils. In 1985, only 600 companies participated (The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, 1999).

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Volunteer Centers

Volunteer Centers are local organizations that mobilize people and resources to deliver creative solutions to community problems. The Volunteer Center National Network, working in partnership with the Points of Light Foundation, is the country's largest local delivery system to mobilize people and resources to address serious social issues in over 450 communities and in all 50 states. Volunteer Centers partner with individuals, families, faith-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, government, and businesses in local and national volunteer initiatives.

Volunteer Centers fulfill the following roles (Points of Light Foundation, Assessment Tool, 2001):

  • Connect volunteers with opportunities to serve.
  • Build capacity for effective local volunteering.
  • Promote volunteering.
  • Develop strategic initiatives to mobilize volunteers to meet local community needs.

Volunteer Centers serve businesses in four principal ways (Points of Light Foundation, Volunteer Centers and Businesses, 2003):

  • Connect employees to the community and opportunities to serve.
  • Provide training and technical assistance.
  • Partner with companies in promotional efforts.
  • Support local Business/Corporate Volunteer Councils.

Volunteer Centers can support B/CVCs in a myriad of ways. They can assist the formation of B/CVCs through the establishment of program standards and core competencies; provide administrative support to the Councils; act as contact point for new B/CVC members; serve as the primary contact to nonprofit agencies; serve as fiscal agents; locate volunteer opportunities; and provide information on local social problems.

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Joint Benefits of Business/Corporate Volunteer Councils

While employee volunteer programs themselves provide a wide range of benefits to businesses, employees, and communities, B/CVCs maximize these benefits by means of the collaboration and networking they promote. Further, the partnering agencies all reap unique benefits. The Points of Light Foundation (2001) outlines these benefits below:

  • Member Companies
    • Gain visibility; viewed as leader in development of employee volunteer programs
    • Gain greater recognition as projects make greater impact on serious social issues
    • Enhance capacity of managers of employee volunteer programs through received training
    • Gain greater understanding of community, thereby enabling better management of company resources
    • Gain access to best practices by exchanging information regarding employee/retiree volunteer programs
  • Communities
    • Enhanced by partnership of companies working together to impact serious social problems
    • Nonprofit organizations learn to work more effectively with corporate volunteers
    • More companies with employee volunteer programs mean more volunteers
    • Joint projects allow businesses too small to partner with others to ensure better community
  • Volunteer Centers
    • Benefit by closer working relationship with companies, possibly leading to more resources for Volunteer Center (money, board members, in-kind donations, etc.)
    • Partnership with B/CVC helps Volunteer Center fulfill its mission

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Case Examples of Successful Collaborations Among B/CVCs, Volunteer Centers, and Nonprofit Organizations

Atlanta, GA

The Metro Atlanta Corporate Volunteer Council (MACVC) is a professional association of businesses that promotes employee volunteerism in the corporate sector and provides advice to companies interested in developing their own volunteer programs. MACVC includes more than 70 Atlanta corporations with employee populations from 50 to 32,000 employees. MACVC celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2002.

MACVC membership includes large, medium, and small businesses located in the Atlanta area. Affiliate members are nonprofit organization representatives involved in volunteer administration to benefit other nonprofit organizations. Affiliate members include organizations such as the United Way of Metro Atlanta, which is the local Volunteer Center, Hands On Atlanta, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Volunteer Administrators.

In addition to providing networking, collaboration, and training opportunities to participating companies, MACVC offers the following benefits to members:

  • MACVC ToolBook, a collection of information of how other local companies carry out their programs.
  • MACVC Profile Book, a listing of each member company's volunteer programs and philanthropic focus areas.
  • Mentoring Program matches experts in the field with those seeking to increase knowledge and expertise in corporate volunteerism issues.
  • Email newsletter alerts members to opportunities for professional development, volunteer needs, kudos for others in the field, and national news about employee volunteerism.

In addition, MACVC developed the IMPACT (Involvement Means People Acting Together) program in order to recognize both outstanding nonprofit programs and corporate volunteer programs.

For more information, visit

Washington, D.C.

The Greater DC Business Volunteerism Council (GDCBVC) is a coalition of companies dedicated to advancing the use of strategic volunteerism as a tool for addressing business goals, community needs, and employee interests. GDCBVC is responsible for implementing workplace-based volunteer programs for employees in Washington, DC, or on a regional basis. Currently, 17 businesses participate in GDCBVC. Greater DC Cares, the local Volunteer Center, partners with GDCBVC to fulfill the Council's goals:

  • To promote and expand the role of volunteerism in meeting business goals.
  • To invest in the health of the region by supporting nonprofits with human resources.
  • To support the leaders of company volunteer programs through the provision of tools, training, and networking opportunities.
  • To act as a source of information on corporate volunteerism and philanthropy.

Members enjoy benefits such as access to information on issues relating to business volunteerism, access to a directory of workplace volunteer leaders, and access to other business philanthropy professionals.

Greater DC Cares matches businesses with community-based organizations in need of volunteers through the Business Shares program. Companies that currently participate in the Business Shares Program include: AOL, Blackboard, Cisco, Deloitte & Touche, ICF Consulting, Intelsat, Mortgage Bankers Association, Smith School of Business, SHRM, SRA, Venable, and webMethods. Business Shares is a fee for service program.

As a component of the Business Shares Program, Greater DC Cares also offers the Summer of Service program. Designed to enhance a company's summer associate, new hire or intern program, Summer of Service offers uniquely tailored, hands-on group volunteer projects that complement a company's philanthropic initiatives while also introducing candidates to the Washington Metro area and providing opportunities for team building and leadership development. The Summer of Service program is a fee for service program.

For more information, visit

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN

The Corporate Volunteerism Council - Twin Cities (CVC) is a professional organization consisting primarily of corporate members and also includes associate nonprofit members. CVC advocates, supports, and grows workplace volunteerism to improve the community. CVC celebrates more than 20 years of successful collaboration between corporations and nonprofit agencies in promoting volunteerism and strengthening the community. Presently, there are 42 corporate members and 9 affiliate members in CVC, including The Volunteer Resource Center, the area's local Volunteer Center.

The Volunteer Resource Center matches potential volunteers with opportunities in the Twin Cities area. Having identified a need in local corporations for consultation services, The Volunteer Resource Center offers a special service to businesses, the Workplace Volunteerism Consulting Service (WVCS). WVCS assists local corporations by:

  • Focusing corporate programs to make the most of limited resources.
  • Tying volunteerism and employee involvement efforts to corporate community affairs objectives.
  • Translating good will into strategic reputation management, enhancement and/or repair and bottom line results.

For more information visit and

Greensboro, NC

The Corporate Volunteer Connection (CVC) of Greensboro is a local coalition of companies that either have active volunteer programs or are interested in developing programs. The Corporate Volunteer Connection strives to enhance the quality of life in Greater Greensboro by promoting, encouraging and fostering corporate volunteerism to address issues of community concern. The CVC is sponsored by the Volunteer Center of Greensboro, a United Way agency that works to mobilize volunteers to address community needs. As of January 2003, 19 businesses participated in CVC.

CVC member companies aim to:

  • Facilitate employee participation in community volunteer activities.
  • Exchange information and provide assistance regarding employee volunteer programs.
  • Educate employees about volunteer needs in Greensboro.
  • Promote a collaborative effort to respond to large scale community needs.

CVC has organized a unique corporate event called Fill the Bus 2003. This annual event collects school supplies for area teachers. The principal of each school has teachers create wish-lists of items that they need/want for their classrooms. Companies paired with nearby schools then display these lists and employees from the company "adopt" a teacher and supply the wishlist items. CVC encourages companies to continue their relationship with the school into the 2003-2004 school year by allowing employees to volunteer their time at the school. 30 companies are participating in Fill the Bus 2003.

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Businesses that choose to develop employee volunteer programs and to design them in such a way as to meet core business goals are in turn improving their bottom lines, recruiting and retaining more satisfied and productive employees, and enhancing the quality of life in the communities where they do business and where employees live. Given that workplace volunteerism is an emerging field, partnerships are needed to support the capacity of businesses, both large and small, to develop and manage employee volunteer programs, and to maximize the benefits of volunteerism for businesses, employees, nonprofits, and the community. Business/Corporate Volunteer Councils, in cooperation with local Volunteer Centers and nonprofit organizations, are productive, collaborative means to support employee volunteerism and to develop successful employee volunteer programs. Current partners should expand the collaborative networks that have been established, and assist other communities in developing strong programs and alliances for employee volunteerism.

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