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Employees Turned Volunteers

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On May 14, the Charles Schwab Corporation celebrated its fifth annual Schwab Volunteer Day–a designated time each year in May that gives employees time off from work to volunteer for community nonprofits–with a kick-off at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Approximately 1,700 Schwab employees at the company’s major centers of employment across the country spent the day doing intensive volunteer work in each of their communities. “Schwab has always had a strong philanthropic culture and we felt that a company-wide volunteer day was a great way to capture that spirit and bring us all together for something bigger than ourselves and our organization,” notes Carrie Schwab Pomerantz, senior vice president and chief strategist, consumer education for Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. and president of The Charles Schwab Foundation, which focuses on supporting employee-selected causes and financial literacy. “It really worked, as most of our volunteer opportunities that are on a first come/first served basis fill up in a matter of minutes every year. Everyone looks forward to the day.”

A Variety of Volunteers

In fact, the program, which celebrates the Schwab values of fairness, empathy, responsiveness, striving, teamwork, and trust, has expanded every year since its inception. Originally expected to involve 10% of Schwab’s 13,000-plus employees, May 2008′s program included just over 13% of the workforce. Pomerantz’s father, company founder, chairman, and CEO Charles Schwab also attended this year’s event, as did Mayor Gavin Newsom. Volunteers gathered at central Schwab office locations including Austin; Denver; Indianapolis; Orlando; Phoenix; Richfield, Ohio; San Francisco; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Schwab employees collectively spent over 7,000 hours benefiting some 65 nonprofit and municipal organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, a national partner of Schwab; Habitat for Humanity; the Salvation Army; Ronald McDonald House Charities; various middle and high schools; animal welfare and rescue organizations; municipal parks, shorelines, and gardens; a variety of organizations dedicated to providing health, social, and human services to seniors, children, women, and families; community food banks; and centers devoted to music and the arts, just to name a few. Activities included everything from visiting with the elderly and cleaning up beaches to teaching financial literacy and socializing animals at the Humans Society.

Additionally, employees that are not located in cities with major Schwab offices but that want to participate are given a toolkit to go out on their own time and provide some type of community service in their location. Pomerantz points out that a fair amount of employees participate in this way. Besides receiving direct service from Schwab employees, each of the nonprofit organizations also receives a monetary grant of $1,000 from the Charles Schwab Foundation.

Getting the Job Done

Pomerantz notes that although Schwab Volunteer Day is a bonding experience for employees, there’s also a job to be done, which is taken seriously by all volunteers. “We painted a YMCA once,” she recalls. “There were about 100 people from our marketing department involved, and in about a three-hour period we painted the exteriors of three buildings.” Afterwards, Pomerantz and her team were told by the YMCA’s executive director that the organization had just received a bid for $30,000 to paint the building. “So, in about a three-hour period we saved this organization a ton of money,” she adds. Jokingly calling Schwab employees “Type A” personalities, Pomerantz also mentions how thoroughly and quickly the projects are completed. “These organizations come up with projects that they think will take hours to do, and we always have to tell them that they need to provide us with more work.” More than the charities benefit, however. “It really energizes and rejuvenates our employees,” she says. “It commits us to ourselves as a group and creates a sense of community among us. It connects us to each other and to Schwab.”