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Warner Urges Companies to Lend Expertise to Strapped Nonprofits

The recession and its aftermath have pinched the budgets of nonprofits even as demand for their services has grown, and businesses can help fill the gap and shore up public trust in the industry by donating workers’ expertise, Virginia Senator Mark Warner said.

“Rather than just giving an organization some money, how do you actually help build their capacity?” the 57-year-old Democrat said yesterday in an interview. “It’s great if a corporation lets off all their folks for a day to paint or build a house. It’s better if the corporation can lend specific expertise to the nonprofit,” such as bookkeeping.

Warner is the honorary chairman of A Billion + Change, a national campaign founded in 2008 to match nonprofits with so-called skills-based volunteer services. The campaign has attracted 78 companies pledging $1.6 billion worth of volunteer hours, Warner told an audience at the New York headquarters of Morgan Stanley, one of the project’s partners.

The campaign helps companies donate their expertise in the discipline in which they’ve excelled. For example, workers at United Parcel Service Inc., the world’s largest package-delivery company, provide logistics and transportation technology assistance to disaster relief organizations preparing for hurricane seasons, said Ken Sternad, president of the company’s philanthropic arm.

$2 Billion Goal

Other participating companies include American Express Co., Capital One Financial Corp., Dow Chemical Co., General Electric Co., Microsoft Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. The goal is to get 500 companies to pledge $2 billion in hours over the next 12 months, Warner said.

“It’s a win for businesses because we know that employees are really interested in giving back, so it’s a way to retain employees, and it’s a win for the non-profits because they get the benefit of really talented individuals,” Robert Velasco, acting chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said in an interview. The federal agency began the program in 2008.

“It’s also a win for the community because, when the non-profits are stronger, they’re actually able to really strengthen the impact they’re able to provide for the most vulnerable in the community,” he said.

Social justice philanthropic organizations, some of the sector’s most vulnerable, have been “disproportionately impacted by the global financial crisis and their recovery remains in jeopardy,” according to a November study by the Foundation Center, which collects philanthropy data. Grants may not reach 2008 levels until after 2015, the report said.

In July, Warner became honorary chairman of the campaign, which is managed by Points of Light, an Atlanta-based nonprofit. A former governor of Virginia, he got his start in the skills-based philanthropy world by creating a health-care public-private partnership in the early 1990s after founding the precursor to wireless phone company Nextel Communications Inc.

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