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Changing What It Means to Serve

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When we think back to the beginning of corporate philanthropy, we think of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Ford, Hershey and the iconic tycoons who committed their personal wealth to establish some of the greatest social-good foundations of our time. Today, we might just as easily think of IBM or HP, Capital One or Deloitte, or the thousands of businesses that are the social investors of a new age, increasingly leading not just with their money, but with their time and talent.

Corporate philanthropy barely existed a hundred years ago and corporate service was nearly nonexistent. Sharing of talent and contributions was for the Rotary Club not for the board room. But over the last century or so, the notion of giving back has evolved from donations of cash by wealthy individuals to strategic giving by corporations to leveraging that giving to its highest impact through volunteer service. And we're not just talking about traditional volunteering.

The new generation of corporate service leaders focuses on contributing high-impact value through skills-based action. Visionary companies are giving their time and expertise to help governments and nonprofits more effectively and efficiently manage community needs. They are unleashing accountants, healthcare experts, communications teams, IT staff and architects to work hand in hand with nonprofits. Some researchers say the monetary value of their support can be as much as five hundred times greater than traditional volunteering. Today's companies are providing scientists, chemists and engineers the chance to serve as skilled math and science mentors to students or subject matter experts to schools systems seeking to align STEM education to job-market needs. And they are training their emerging managers to be high-value board members to build stronger, more efficient nonprofits for years to come.

Technology is opening doors for companies of any size, located anywhere in the world to serve organizations that inspire them. Experts in Mumbai can work on social analytics projects for a nonprofit in Atlanta -- in fact, IBM employees around the globe just completed such a project for for Points of Light. Crowdsourcing technologies give colleagues in different cities the chance to work together in virtual teams to help nonprofits solve problems like developing a new website, measuring their impact or improving delivery logistics. Technologies to engage millions, raise millions and serve millions are helping business do more, do it better and do it faster - and that means more help to struggling communities is on its way.

These companies are redefining service and changing the very definition of corporate philanthropy and engagement.

For a new breed of companies, service is now an integral part of business strategy. It benefits nonprofit clients, enhances the attraction and retention of top talent, offers brand and relationship-building opportunities and provides critical entrees into new markets, especially in developing economies.

A lot has happened over the past 100 years in philanthropy. The pooling of global expertise through skills-based service is one of our greatest opportunities to produce real value in the next 100 years of philanthropic change.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and A Billion + Change, a national campaign that has inspired the largest commitment of pro bono service in history. The series is part of A Billion + Change's celebration of mobilizing more than $2 billion worth of corporate pro bono services for nonprofits, which it will announce at "Service Unites," Points of Light's Conference on Volunteering and Service taking place this week in Washington, DC. For more information about the campaign, click here, and for more information about the conference, click here.