Giving Site Makes It Easier to Volunteer for Health Charities

Beth Fitzgerald | March 13, 2012 | Health Care
Community Health Charities helps companies plug in to opportunities with Volunteers Matter 365

Companies looking to plug into philanthropy now have an online search engine for giving and volunteer opportunities at health-related charities – a website called Volunteers Matters 365 offered by Community Health Charities.

This nationwide philanthropic organization is likened to United Way, because Community Health Charities (CHC) raises money from employees during annual workplace campaigns. The money CHC raises — about $65 million last year, including $1.3 million in New Jersey — goes exclusively to charities devoted to health, disease prevention and research. CHC’s 58 member charities include the American Cancer Society, Autism Speaks, the American Diabetes Association and the AIDS Research Foundation.

As competition for charitable donations has intensified in recent years, CHC has embarked on a new strategy: Providing services to employers and their workers, instead of just asking them to donate money. CHC launched Health Matters at Work in 2007, a website providing information on wellness and disease that taps into the knowledge base of CHC’s members.

Last year, CHC started Volunteer Matters 365, where employees go online to seek health-centered volunteer opportunities in areas that interest them, whether it’s breast cancer, epilepsy or lupus. “We no longer just go into a company and ask them to include us in their payroll giving campaign,” said Nancy Tringali, CHC chief executive for New Jersey.

Volunteer Matters 365 is designed so “employees can plug in their zip code and their area of interest,” Tringali said. “It may be a disease. They may want to volunteer with the cancer organization. Or it may be their skills set. If someone is interested in designing websites, they can plug that in and see all the volunteer opportunities within 10 or 20 miles of their home.”

Like the United Way, the employer usually matches contributions employees make to CHC. By providing services to the employees that are customized for each employer, CHC is striving to create a two-way that gives back to the donors, Tringali said. “Employees want to know, ‘what do I do if I have a parent who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or a child with diabetes?”

Health Matters at Work answers disease questions and also provides wellness advice: Nutrition, exercise and tools for assessing individual health. “We customize it to meet the needs of the company, and it’s been very popular,” Tringali said.

Both the health information and volunteer websites allow CHC to spread the substantial reservoir of health knowledge that resides in their member charities. “In the past we did not do a very good job of harnessing all of that information, and putting it in one place for the employees to see,” Tringali said. “That is what we have now done.”

Christopher Montross, managing director, community relations and urban marketing for Aetna, said employees pledge to any nonprofit they choose, and CHC ranks in the top three.

A key reason for CHS’s popularly is that “their mission is in common with Aetna’s mission of ensuring healthcare is delivered” to those who need it, Montross said. The CHC charities “are meeting the needs of the needy,” he said. Many CHC charities are battling chronic diseases, which resonates with individuals who are affected by these conditions.

Volunteer Matters 365 program is popular with Aetna employees, and enables Aetna to communicate to employees about the volunteer projects that Aetna sponsors, as well as helping employees find volunteer opportunities. “We often use the CHC resources that are available to us,” Montross said. “They are a really solid community partner that we make use of to attend to our employees’ needs.”

Linda Hrevnack, manager of community affairs at C.R. Bard, said CHC “is a logical fit for us because we are a healthcare company. What is nice about CHC is they have a wide range or organizations that our employees can donate to.” Service is one of Bard’s core values, she said. “It’s important to be involved with the community, whether that is through financial donations or volunteerism. We have very active employees.”