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Corporate generosity: time, not just money

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Corporate good citizenship should be more than just writing checks. That is the feeling of many executives as more and more companies roll up their collective sleeves and pitch in - their employees tutoring in schools, caring for the elderly, becoming active in community development.

In the past few years, corporations have become more formalized in their organization of volunteer programs. A 1979 study identified almost 350 companies with organized volunteer programs; now almost 500 are reckoned to have these, according to Shirley Keller of VOLUNTEER: the National Center for Citizen Involvement in Arlington, Va.

Some important trends:

* Companies are inventorying skills and interests of would-be volunteers among their employees, in some cases under a full-time coordinator.

* More corporate retirees are getting into the act.

* Some companies, but not all, are providing ''released time,'' time off work with pay, for such activities as tutoring in schools.

* ''Companies are looking for ways to encourage the 'employee owned' approach ,'' one official says. This means employees form a ''community involvement team'' to decide which to activities become involved in.

Levi Strauss & Co. of blue jeans fame, recognized as a leader in the area of corporate social responsibility, has a community involvement team at each of its 100 plants worldwide. People join or quit the team as they wish, and the group members decide that some or all of them will work with the elderly, the Boy Scouts, or whatever project they wish.

A volunteer program must have solid support from the top, observers agree; but wide-based involvement at the corporate grass-roots level is important, too.

New companies, such as those being launched as a result of the AT&T breakup, are also looking at philanthropic work as a way to establish corporate identities.

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