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Last fall, Jenny Balaze left her post in Ernst & Young LLC's Washington office to spend 12 weeks in Buenos Aires as a volunteer, providing free accounting services to a small publishing firm. It was among "the best three months of my life," says the 27-year-old business advisory services manager.
The Big Four accounting firm covered her transportation, food and hotel expenses. Even better, she remained on the company payroll the entire time she was gone, and her job was waiting for her when she got back.
Corporate volunteerism often used to mean cleaning up public parks or building homes for the needy. Today, a growing number of companies are lending out skilled employees to nonprofits and struggling small businesses around the world to provide accounting, marketing and other professional services. Under these programs, assignments tend to tap into participants' skills and career goals.
To be sure, law firms of all sizes have a long tradition of providing pro bono work to nonprofits and individuals. But in recent years, more employers have begun offering similar arrangements for employees to do volunteer work on company time -- and the company dime -- even if it means employees miss weeks or months of work.
Why go to all the trouble? For one, employees often gain a broader perspective on business when they do their jobs in different settings -- knowledge they can bring back to the organization. And, say employers, first-rate corporate volunteer programs help attract and retain so-called millennials -- workers born after 1980 -- who are needed to help fill vacancies expected to be created by the impending retirement wave of the baby-boomer generation.