If you're one of those people who questions the charitable intentions of corporate America, don't look to the staff or patients at The Children's Guild in Northeast Baltimore for sympathy. Last year at this time, the Guild's executive director, Stanley Mopsik, stood at the front entrance and watched in amazement as more than 250 volunteers from 32 Baltimore corporations began arriving on the property.
Eight hours and lots of sweat later, classrooms, hallways and the entire gym were painted, floor to ceiling, the grounds cleaned of debris and landscaped, and the building carpeted with goods donated by telephone company employees. Ninety percent of the materials were donated by companies. Now, the emotionally disturbed youngsters at The Children's Guild have an education and residential facility of which they can be proud.
The entire one-day event was orchestrated by one of the most dynamic organizations on the non-profit scene in Baltimore. Started in 1990, the Corporate Volunteer Council of Central Maryland has already established a presence -- and a high standard -- for corporate citizenship in our region. With little overhead, the council has tapped into a real desire on the part of corporations to have a significant impact on social problems.
After two years in operation, the council has more than 40 corporate members, including ones we would not normally lump in that group, such as universities and larger non-profits. There is no such thing as a non-working member. Once a company decides to join, its representative to the council must be on a committee or serve as an officer.
There are about 40 such councils throughout the nation, though only one in Maryland. They bill themselves as a "clearinghouse for community need."
Community groups can come to them for in-kind services and volunteer labor. Corporations can receive help in setting up strong volunteer programs.
And, best of all, the Maryland council coordinates one or two major projects each year, of the size and scope of The Children's Guild project.
I attended a recent meeting of the council, which is coordinating a series of events surrounding the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Aside from the detailed event planning, the council had arranged for a guest speaker, to increase members' knowledge of the characteristics and needs of the non-profit community.
In this case, they chose wisely. Andrea Krupp, executive director of Partners For Giving, explained how the program was working to establish a standard of giving 5 percent of income and five hours of volunteer help a week in the Central Maryland region.
The Council grew out of a United Way advisory committee and the dedicated efforts of Pat Kirk, former volunteer coordinator for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland. Kirk has retired after 25 years with the company and is president of the council.
With so many requests for help from non-profit organizations, Kirk's experience is needed to choose those that can challenge the membership, yet offer a reasonable chance for success. And because the council can bring so many people to bear on the needs of a non-profit, the trick is to find a project that is just the right size.
With large projects such as those sponsored by the council, the question is always whether it is worth the effort once the volunteers leave the site.
According to Mopsik of the Children's Guild, it is. "The entire project was a morale-building experience for our entire staff. It spurred us to renew our faith in our mission. If so many people could volunteer to help our cause, then we must be doing something right."
Yet, like any good cause, benefits should run both ways, in what Kirk calls a "win-win situation." Aside from the intense good feelings that volunteers report feeling after each project, there is a larger benefit to the corporate community.
Again, Mopsik recalls the council project: "It was the most incredible thing I have ever seen. All the planning that went into it, donating time and money and sweat. It has given our people renewed faith in corporate America."
Interestingly, though most corporate members represent large companies, the council actually offers more benefit to smaller companies, which typically do not have the staff and resources to develop their own volunteer programs. The council also offers these companies an opportunity to rub elbows and learn from their bigger cousins.
Those corporations, large or small, interested in joining the council can call Pat Kirk at 465-8974, or Secretary Betsy Bender (Maryland Casualty Co.) at 338-9031.
Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.