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Instead Of Corporate Philanthropy, How About Corporate Volunteering?

It’s easy for large corporations to throw money at the issues they care about. But it’s more meaningful—for the company and the organizations they support—if they can lend manpower and expertise.

These are uniquely challenging times for those seeking social development. On the one hand, the demand for nonprofits to tackle entrenched problems has never been greater. Economic hardship around the world has swelled the ranks of individuals and communities in need. On the other hand, this is a time of austerity. From national budgets to foundation budgets to household budgets, resources are stretched thin. For those committed to the cause of social progress, the fundamental question today is how do we reconcile those dynamics? Put most bluntly: can we truly do more with less?

This post is part of a series on the future of service in America, in conjunction with Catchafire.

There is one school of thought that says we need to scale back our ambitions, perhaps by narrowing our focus, or accepting that certain achievements will have to wait for sunnier economic times. But for those unwilling to reconcile themselves to those limitations, the answer lies in innovation. And in that effort, the smart use of technology is central. Large companies can just give away money, but is that the best use of their resources, or the resources of their employees? Instead of, say, just giving away computers and routers, what if major corporations’ philanthropic efforts also involved providing expert know-how? Add to those routers the manpower and expertise to design and build software and infrastructure and you’ve truly made a difference.

This is the underlying belief of the Technology for Social Good program at JP Morgan Chase. Under this program, we are leveraging the strength and talent of our global staff to partner with organizations around the world and equip them with the tools to maximize the impact of every dollar they invest in their missions.

We’ve worked with a program called Operation Morale Call to connect deployed servicemen in Afghanistan with their loved ones via high end video, and with the The King Center, to digitize Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches, sermons, and correspondence, and develop an innovative, global educational website. These investments of resources can have a broad multiplier effect; each organization we work with can better use funds originally allocated for technology and invest them in other areas to directly meet their missions.

The driving principle behind this initiative—making an investment in an organization beyond a monetary commitment—should be a model for likeminded companies seeking to make the greatest difference for the communities they support. We do not want to minimize the importance of a financial contribution. That said, too often there is a disconnect between the company and its beneficiary. Instead, we should encourage the donating company to take a personal stake in the program, be it a one-off commitment or a long-term engagement.

Challenging times require creative solutions. Working together, private companies, nonprofit organizations, governments, and other stakeholders can apply the same technological innovations that have boosted productivity around the world to make social programs ever more effective. As we look forward, expanding this mindset and building upon its foundation will be increasingly essential.