Changing the World with an Allen Wrench?

This might be the start of a trend; large companies and contest philanthropy.  You could say that it started with the Pepsi Refresh Project, but Ikea and Vodafone have jumped on board to fund individuals so they can volunteer in their communities.  Ikea’s Life Improvement Project and Vodafone’s World of Difference fund individuals to improve their lives and work with charities of their choice.

Ikea’s Life Improvement Project gives one person $100,000 to use how they see fit to “improve the lives of others.”  It doesn’t look like there are restrictions on the dollars, as long as you submit a budget with your entry.  You can use the dollars to fund yourself so you can volunteer full-time with an organization or you can donate the dollars to organizations of your choice.

Vodafone’s World of Difference program supports volunteering specifically.  Vodafone funds charities to support a full-time volunteer.  Instead of the individual getting funds, organizations get the funds to put the winner on payroll for two months.  The organization gets £2,500 to fund a salary for the winner, and £250 towards “administration expenses incurred as part of the programme.”

The £250 is interesting.  It looks like Vodafone is acknowledging that the volunteer isn’t free for the organization.  I think this is something a lot of people don’t realize.  Even volunteers who aren’t funded have management and material costs associated with their tasks.  I’m sure part of the money is going to go to setting up the volunteer’s payroll and insurance coverage but I doubt that it will use up the whole £250.  The contest rules don’t say anything about how the organization can use the funds outside of “administrative costs.”  Training and support are part of the administration of a volunteer program, right?

Is this the start of a bigger movement where companies help individuals to become more active in their communities?  If so it seems like a good idea.  More people working to make their communities better is a good thing.  Sure, the companies get some free advertising, but does it really change how people think about the company?  If Nike or Shell or BP or Walmart start a similar program, is it really going to change what people think about them as a company?  Are more people going to shop at Ikea or use Vodafone because of the contest?

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