by Jennifer Brunelle and Amy Klein

How can corporations large and small stay connected nationally and support the local communities where their employees live and work?

NRG and VolunteerConnect are noticing a new challenge in corporate philanthropy. Historically, large companies have focused philanthropy on nonprofit organizations at a nationwide level. These marquee relationships have helped create a focus across an organization, encouraging employees to rally around a few great causes. This approach helped create measurable, often more significant impact than smaller donations spread thinly across a multitude of organizations. National relationships can also be strategic, aligning with business mission and ethos, lending credibility and institutional passion to the cause.

However, a shift is rightly occurring, where corporations are recognizing the need and importance for supporting the people and causes in their own backyard. Certainly it is likely that a national nonprofit has a chapter in your city or town, but there’s no way to tell if your contributions will impact your community directly. So what does a company do to ensure local impact? From senior executives to folks on the frontline, NRG & VolunteerConnect believe that encouraging employees to serve in their community demonstrates a respect for our neighbors and a much needed impact to the causes that mean most to them.

“Serving” in the community can mean different things for different companies. For NRG, a Fortune 200 company with offices and employees from coast to coast, employee engagement at the local level allows us to participate as engaged members of the communities where we live and work. One of the benefits we offer our employees is the opportunity to develop their professional volunteerism skills leveraged by serving on nonprofit boards and more effectively donating their unique skillsets.

For this service, NRG partners with VolunteerConnect, a New Jersey organization that offers unique employee opportunities for nonprofit board training and to share their skills, pro bono, in short-term impact projects with nonprofits in need of strategic support.

NRG works with VolunteerConnect in both the Princeton and Houston, Texas, headquarters to provide nonprofit board training to senior executives and rising stars.

At NRG we place an incredible value on maintaining a strong connection with our neighbors. VolunteerConnect’s nonprofit board training program, gave us the opportunity to engage our employees in a meaningful professional and personal development that helps advance our workforce, shape even more well-rounded employees, and foster an improved sense of purpose.

NRG and VolunteerConnect are not alone in their focus on philanthropic endeavors with active, firsthand support at the local level. There is now a larger trend, an inspiring shift to authentic and hands-on volunteerism. In fact, each year, charities.org publishes trends, attitudes, and perceptions in employee workplace giving. Their most recent, “Snapshot 2015” highlighted six major trends in workplace giving:

Volunteerism as a path to full employee engagement.

Engagement isn’t just for large companies.

Leaders getting involved.

Millennials have expectations of their employers.

Engagement must be 100 percent authentic.

Align corporate and employee interests with nonprofit needs.

At VolunteerConnect, we focus on supporting these corporate trends in social responsibility by developing both emerging and seasoned leaders alike. We are seeing board training and skills-based volunteering enrich nonprofit services all over New Jersey as well as supporting purposeful employee engagement and we couldn’t be more proud to serve as that link. NRG is an example of how impactful a national corporation can be at a local level. NRG employees are integrated within our community, educated and encouraged on how to make a difference and are dedicated to the task of social change.

The trend is clear — companies don’t have to choose between community involvement and a strategic large-scale giving plan. Organizations like VolunteerConnect, which catalyze mutually beneficial relationships between employers, employees and nonprofits, foster understanding in a shifting philanthropy landscape. Regardless of the size of your business, it’s time to consider how you can encourage your employees to get involved and serve directly in the communities where they live and work.

Jennifer Brunelle is global giving director at NRG. Amy Klein is executive director of VolunteerConnect (VolunteerConnectNJ.org).

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