Hands On leader reaches out

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at 1:00am

Describe in detail Hands On Nashville's Middle Tennessee Corporate Volunteer Council.

The Corporate Volunteer Council is a collection of area business leaders dedicated to improving our community through employee volunteerism. The participants convene quarterly to exchange innovative ideas on corporate volunteerism. They come from all sizes of companies and are committed to implementing the best practices for their employee volunteer programs.

Why should a business join the Corporate Volunteer Council?

Stronger employee volunteer programs emphasize a business' dedication to achieving excellence externally as a responsible corporate citizen and internally as a determined culture. A quality program produces quantifiable results for a business and the community. It also will help a company recruit and retain valuable employees. The MTCVC is designed to help the employer maximize its programs, connecting employees to the business, the community and each other in more meaningful ways.

Conversation with a leader
Jennifer Gilligan Cole, executive director, Hands On Nashville Inc.

Hometown: Nashville
Education: University of Mary Washington, Va.
First conventional job: Delaware Department of EducationHypothetical dream job: Celebrity chef

With more than 11 years of experience in the volunteer and community service sector, Cole started her career directing all K-12 service-learning initiatives for the Delaware Department of Education. Later, she headed statewide AmeriCorps programs at the Delaware Commission for National & Community Service, and served as manager of youth outreach and then director of nonprofit outreach at the Points of Light Foundation. In 1999, Cole launched Creative Tools for Communities, clients of which included America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth; the Tennessee Commission for Community Service; and the Points of Light Foundation. Since February 2001, Cole has been the executive director of Hands On Nashville Inc.

HCA Inc. is taking the lead among local companies in the Corporate Volunteer Council. Your thoughts?

I think that's natural. HCA has a long-standing commitment to community volunteering and has a really well-tuned internal system for supporting employees and their service involvement. The company is a role model for other companies that strive to incorporate volunteerism into their business models. If HCA can continue to be an example for how other companies can align their business practices with their community involvement, Nashville would be an even stronger community than it currently is.

Who are some other leaders - both locally and nationally?

Gaylord Entertainment, Tennessee Valley Authority, Dollar General, Country Music Television, First Tennessee, The Home Depot, and Target are also pacesetters in the corporate volunteerism arena.

How can companies benefit financially from corporate volunteering?

There is some good research from Business For Social Responsibility [bsr.org] that indicates that companies that have an active employee involvement program not only have happier employees, but they retain those employees longer, as well as build better employee leadership skills. And those companies more effectively cultivate goodwill with their customers. Customers are more likely to choose a company that they know cares about the greater community.

Any figures that prove this?

The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College provided a comprehensive examination [conducted in 2003-04] on this topic. The study is called "The State of Corporate Citizenship in the U.S.: A View from Inside." Key findings are that 82 percent of executives surveyed say that good corporate citizenship helps the bottom line and that 46 percent of those executives cite a lack of resources as the greatest obstacle to practicing corporate citizenship.

What is the current health of Hands On Nashville?

We've gone through a pretty dramatic expansion in the past couple of years. We have moved from three to 11 employees, and that growth has allowed up to dramatically expand our community programs. These programs allow children as young as 5 to volunteer for our Kids Care Club.

What is the fiscal status of the nonprofit?

We're not a conventional cash-generating company. As a nonprofit, our focus is on diversity of revenue. Our cash position, so to speak, is very strong, with a $380,000 budget. Those funds come from a variety of sources, everything from special events to individual donors to earned revenue [for example, program fees and consulting services].

What is your opinion of the city's nonprofit community?

The nonprofit community is strong and growing. Nashville has a significant number of very seasoned CEOs and a new fleet of people like me joining their ranks. The nonprofits are focused on partnership advocacy and professionalism. We run ourselves like a start-up business and are very lean.

What are your leadership strengths and weaknesses?

My weakness is that I am a "tech-phobe." I understand technology, theoretically, but I dislike using it. It's important that I recognize the value of technology and push the company to do things beyond my personal weakness. My strengths are in building and managing a great team of experts. And I thrive on turnaround situations. I do my best work in crisis mode and enjoy planning for how to take Hands On Nashville to the next level of performance.

You have a very diverse background. Your thoughts.

I have lived in seven states and overseas. The No. 1 thing that being a military child teaches you is to embrace change. If you're always the new kid in school, you learn quickly how to deal with all kinds of people, how to express yourself, and how to excel in different environments.

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