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Thursday, Jun 1, 2023

Volunteering Builds Skills, Provides Career Growth

Almost every issue of the Business Journal this year included a column called Giving, featuring a multitude of ways that local businesses support the communities that support them. In many cases, this support took the form of people donating their time and energy to organize fund-raisers, food drives, recycling programs and all sorts of events and activities. It turns out that in many cases, the employees and the companies they work for may actually have been benefiting as well, with more than just warm fuzzy feelings. It’s called, among other things, service learning, and Blue Shield is one local company that is embracing it as a tool with a dual purpose to support their community development projects and give employees opportunities to develop new skills that can enhance career growth. “We run over 100 community projects up and down the state throughout the year,” said Ronda Wilkin, manager of corporate community relations for Blue Shield of California. “Obviously it takes a huge team to run that many community programs and I am the only full-time, paid employee to do community service.” What Wilkin and others have realized is that in the process of organizing and managing a community service project, a person can gain valuable skills that will help them in their career. Take the case of Sue Sculler, who works as a data analyst in Blue Shield’s medical informatics department. She is also the chair of community relations for the company’s Woodland Hills office. Her committee takes on about 10 projects a year, said Sculler. While she delegates most of those projects to other committee members, one she managed herself was the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fundraiser walk at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 1. “Because I’m not in a management position at this time, this role has helped me with having a budget and showing I can manage people and time to get the project done in a successful manner,” said Sculler. For example, “she had to help recruit team captains so there’s recruitment we had about 10 team captains who then helped get their folks involved,” said Wilkin, “She had to put out communications; she needed to deal with the (juvenile diabetes) organization so she was working on her networking and her interpersonal skills and communication skills; she had a budget to work with.” What that means for Sculler is that should an opportunity for advancement come up, she can include all of these skills on her internal resume. Her manager is on board, as well, and has included her volunteerism in her performance reviews. Plus, Sculler adds, “I don’t have the time to do as much as I’d like due to family commitments, so having Blue Shield’s support lets me fit volunteering into my life.” “We love to see that,” said Wilkin. “We love for employees to say that they’ve garnered new skills and they can actually prove it. This whole thing is about improving your human capital.” Facilitating the process The flip side of the coin is finding the right opportunities to implement these service learning opportunities and a national organization called the Taproot Foundation is in the process of opening a Los Angeles office to help do just that. Too often, a group of highly talented business people will decide to help a local organization and be relegated to painting walls or answering telephones. Not that these are not important projects, but Taproot believes there are more effective uses for skilled workers. “We’ve created a pathway by which business people can really give of their talents in a focused way,” said Joel Bashevkin, west coast regional director for Taproot, which he says is the largest non-profit consulting firm in the country. “Our mission is to strengthen non-profits, to help them be as resilient as possible, especially in hard economic times,” he said. “And the way in which we do it is through awarding them grants. But instead of giving cash, we recruit and put high-quality, highly skilled volunteer teams, consulting groups, at their disposal.” Assigning professionals The grant, then, involves a team of five business professionals who are assigned to work with a designated nonprofit for approximately 6 months, to help them with operational challenges. One company they’ve worked with nationally is retailer Target. Across the country, school libraries are being renovated based on designs created by Target’s internal store designers. “By 2010, they will have renovated more than 60 libraries across the country,” said Bashevkin. Locally, Taproot is working with companies like Blue Shield, Disney and Deloitte on a variety of programs. A new downtown Los Angeles office is in the works and will hopefully be operational in the first quarter of 2009. “We’re looking to have our office at the California Endowment offices downtown. That’s still in negotiations,” said Bashevkin. “We have just begun the hiring process to bring somebody who can make the L.A. Taproot office as responsive as possible to the local needs. We began recruiting volunteers in Los Angeles in late September. We have a few hundred on board ready to go.” They also have nearly 30 nonprofits who have applied for volunteers to help with projects. February 23 is National Corporate Philanthropy day and Bashevkin is working to put together a conference for companies that are interested in incorporating service learning into their own organizations. “We want to teach them how to do this,” he said, “how to begin seeing this kind of volunteerism as a benefit to their employees and their companies and the community as whole.”

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