''I want three volunteers - you, you, and you." The old Army line comes to mind as latterday pressures and incentives impinge on pure, old-fashioned, self-starting, maybe even self-sacrificing volunteer work.
Pressures to volunteer range from trying to look good on college applications to meeting corporate expectations of public-spiritedness in executives.
Incentives to volunteer range from the federal Americorps' modest payments and educational grants for public service jobs to, again on the executive level, plenty of secretarial help and perhaps company time for good works.
Now 127,000 employees of AT&T are beneficiaries of what is reported as the biggest public corporate commitment to community service. During the next year each employee will get a day off with pay for volunteer work of the employee's choice - adding up to about 1 million hours or $20 million.
No doubt the carpers will begin as they did with Americorps: People are now shockingly to be paid for volunteering they might have done anyway.
We choose to see it from the point of view of the people and organizations getting a day of free help. That is not sullied by being paid for by someone else. We also see the AT&T plan as a vote for meeting community needs by a giant phone company putting its money where its mouthpiece is in a new way. After all, Alexander Graham Bell was known for public service.
Giving employees days for volunteering is an impersonal corporation's way of volunteering. It should fortify, not undermine, the atmosphere for individuals to volunteer without thought of material return, as more than 90 million Americans already do.