At JPMorgan Chase, volunteerism is part of the culture

Breezy Point, Rockaway, Queens, N.Y. Photo by New York Daily News, November 5

With hundreds of thousands in the Northeast still cold, hungry and powerless in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and a bone-chilling nor’easter, packages of basic goods — toothbrushes, ready-to-eat meals — made it into some grateful hands this week.

The packages were assembled in Dallas, far from the mammoth back-to-back storms, by employees of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Four days after the hurricane ravaged the Northeast, more than 100 Chase employees in Texas answered a call to rush over to a warehouse run by the Christian humanitarian organization WorldVision.

It took only four hours for Chase to mobilize those workers.

JPMorgan Chase employees of Dallas/Fort Worth pack goods for victims of Hurricane Sandy on November 2. Photo by Sarah Seals

That’s because JPMorgan Chase, besides being one of the world’s largest banking corporations, has emerged as one of the nation’s biggest banks of volunteers.

Last year, some 37,000 employees took part in 1,800 charitable projects sanctioned by the financial giant. They put in 375,000 hours of service to others — including generous outlays of company time to Innovations for Learning’s TutorMate online tutoring program.

“We do everything from one-and-done projects involving environmental cleanups, school beautification and food banks, all the way to ongoing mentoring projects like IFL,” said Michael Carren, vice president and director of employee engagement and volunteerism.

Chase is building a tradition of responding quickly to disasters. When tornadoes devastated much of Tuscaloosa, Ala., last year, killing at least 32 people and leveling wide swaths of the city, the company asked employees to hurry over to that same WorldVision warehouse in Dallas to assemble basic survival kits for thousands of Alabamans whose houses had been blown to splinters. With just a day’s notice, the company expected to round up 50 people.

“But we got over 200 volunteers,” Carren said. “They put together 3,000 kits that immediately went onto an 18-wheel truck and got to Tuscaloosa in 24 hours.

“It was a very, very impressive effort.”

This time, the disaster literally hit home for the New York-based multinational.

More than 30,000 JPMorgan Chase employees work in the Northeast Corridor where Sandy hit, and “many, many, many” were affected by the storm, Carren said: their houses wrecked, or their power cut off, or their appliances destroyed, or their transportation sidelined. Or they were missing work to help relatives and friends who were facing overwhelming losses.

With CEO Jamie Dimon saying, “We plan to be one of the key engines toward this recovery,” the company quickly donated $4 million in immediate disaster relief and pledged to match another $1 million in employee donations to the American Red Cross and other groups.

The firm organized food and clothing drives, urging employees to drop off donations at major Chase office centers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey

It set up a separate “employee to employee” relief fund, the company pledging to match up to $1 million in workers’ contributions to help other Chase workers “who experience a significant loss,” Carren said.

No natural disaster this large had hit JPMorgan Chase before. Besides its employees in need of aid, the firm faced more than 10 million customers, many requiring access to cash in ATMs or loans to rebuild homes and businesses, or a break with the mortgage.

JPMorgan Chase’s business, of course, is finance. But Carren’s office has been busy assessing a flood of needs and a fielding a stream of ideas on the best ways to bring food, clothing and comfort to people stricken by the disaster and the relief teams that have poured into the area to help.

“The phone is ringing off the hook,” Carren said Thursday, 10 days after the hurricane hit.

America has a deep culture of volunteerism (“The USA started with people volunteering to do very dangerous things,” Carren notes), and that tradition is not letting up.

From 2007 to 2011, a period that saw the biggest economic setback since the Depression, the percentage of Americans involved in volunteer work was an unchanged 26 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Historically, U.S. volunteer rates decline during recessions. Given that perspective, the rate of involvement isn’t flat, but on the rise.

More than ever, the business world is providing a rich source of volunteers., which helps organizations manage volunteer programs, now tracks more than 140 companies, including such giants as Coca Cola, Target and Google. In 2009, 30 percent of referrals for volunteers came from corporate websites, the network says. In 2010, that percentage rose to 45 percent.

The volunteer culture at JP Morgan Chase, for one, is growing markedly. “This August, we were already 20 percent ahead of last year’s pace in terms of number of employees and hours,” Carren said. “2011 was 30 percent higher than 2010, and 2010 was a 40 percent increase over 2009.”

The enthusiasm for volunteerism at the company is contagious, judging by retention rates. “As I recall, if you volunteer for any one project, the likelihood of coming back for another project is well over 50 percent,” Carren said.

The financial giant encourages all this because, with more than 5,100 Chase bank branches, it has a presence just about everywhere. As the 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report puts it, “JPMorgan Chase doesn’t just do business in communities all over the world. We live and work in these communities.”

“And because people spend so much of their time at work, there’s a lot of interest in seeing how we could use that time at the workplace to get involved in community service,” Carren said.

How does the sprawling organization marshal the time and talents of so many of its people, spread around so many places?

By thinking locally.

The multinational encourages its workers to join employee leadership groups. It’s these groups — 48 across the U.S. and 20 overseas — that choose the causes to support and activities to undertake.

“We believe all volunteerism is local,” Carren said. “We want to understand what the different needs are in different places, and that won’t come from headquarters’ perspective.”

After identifying the community’s needs, the leadership groups find out which organizations are attacking the problems the best. They choose to partner with those with biggest capacity to provide volunteer opportunities, Carren said.

One such project is a partnership with Soaringwords, a nonprofit that provides quilts and pillows, decorated with cheerful messages and artwork, to children in long-term hospital stays. Employees in 10 markets decorated more than 1,500 quilts and pillows. In southern New Jersey, employees at 114 branches produced 500 blankets in a two-week period.

“Employees in the workplace get together and sew and decorate the quilts,” Carren said. “Employees love to do it, and then they spend an afternoon at the hospital and have fun playing games with the kids and giving them the pillows and blankets.”

In Minneapolis, meanwhile, 120 volunteers planted more than 200 trees in a long-neglected neighborhood. In a variety of cities, JPMorgan Chase volunteers, working with Habitat for Humanity and other groups, helped build some 150 homes in the last three years.

Last year, more than 5,850 employees participated in more than 200 walks, runs and other events that raised awareness and money for charities. They supported local food banks in 15 states as well as in London, England.

The employees often get a lot more than a warm feeling out of their participation. Each year, about 100 employees who are active in volunteer leadership groups get professional development training in communication, branding and leadership — skills that can help their careers.

As for Innovations for Learning, JPMorgan Chase employees volunteer as long-distance tutors in Chicago, New York and other cities, communicating with school children for half an hour a week using telephones and computers.

They do it gratefully, Carren said.

“There are clear indications that the volunteers are helping kids learn,” he said. “And it makes our people feel good to be helping kids.”


Posted on November 9, 2012, in IFL, Innovation, Reading, TeacherMate, Teaching, Technology, TutorMate, Uncategorized, Volunteering and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.


  2. I’m perpetually thought about this, appreciate it for posting .

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