By Andrea Newell

As part of its sixth annual Summer of Community Service initiative, PwC announced a new strategic relationship with classroom savior DonorsChoose, a philanthropy that connects individual donors with specific school needs using a microfinance model. PwC is offering $5 gift cards to all of its 30,000 U.S. employees, and $20 gift cards to any employee who volunteers in a firm-sponsored project during the summer program to put toward the classroom project of their choice.

In the past three years, PwC has sharpened its focus on youth education. In a speech to the MIND Research Institute, another PwC education partner, Shannon Schuyler, Corporate Responsibility Leader at PwC, talked about the firm’s migration toward education as their chosen cause area. As the world’s largest professional services firm, PwC saw youth education as a global issue that resonated with employees everywhere. It was a cause that each employee could be involved with on a local level.

“We’re focusing really on financial services, we’re focusing a lot on math, a lot on analytical thinking, and the notion that we really want to see how we can drive forward science, and math and financial literacy in our next generation of leaders is absolutely critical and is something that we take very seriously. And we believe that’s part of who we are and what we need to do as a responsible organization.”

Heather Wright, Director of Operations for Corporate Responsibility for the U.S. firm, explains that the new partnership with DonorsChoose accomplished two important goals. It enables every employee to participate in their own way, while at the same time directing a substantial gift toward educational needs. “We really have an opportunity to maximize our impact when we group our donation dollars and our volunteer hours around a specific cause, and yet at the same time, with 30,000 people, we have a very diverse population with very different interests. DonorsChoose puts the donor in the consumer role, where they have much more choice and attachment to where they’re giving, and we think that is very engaging.”

Wright hopes that this model will grow once employees use their gift cards and perhaps become so invested that they donate their own money as well. “It’s addictive,” Wright laughed, “you keep giving because you really want to see your chosen project get funded.”

She sees the biggest benefit being the combined impact of volunteering and donating. On her way to financial literacy training at a New Orleans school, Wright talked about how she reminded her team to use their gift cards to fund projects at the school through DonorsChoose. Her colleagues were excited to realize that they could use their gift cards to benefit the school where they were already donating time.

“I think it further connects the dots between where you put your volunteer hours and your donation dollars to create this cycle of contagious commitment where people are excited to see the impact they are making. So you can go into the classroom and feel like you are really making a difference sharing your knowledge, and then you can go back to your desk, and when you think about where you want to give either the firm-provided funds or your own dollars – you can think about the students you worked side-by-side with, and you may want to give where it’s very tangible.”

Wright hopes that making the experience more customizable, personal, and transparent, will contribute to its longevity and sustainability. As for the future, she sees only growth. Now that 30,000 PwC U.S. employees know about DonorsChoose, volunteers could urge their local schools to post their own requests on the organization’s website. When the partnership began, Wright immediately contacted all the educators in her personal network to let them know about it, and what it could do. “I can’t speak for DonorsChoose, but [founder] Charles Best always presents it as a the-more-the-merrier-type endeavor, encouraging teachers and schools to get involved.”

Although the partnership was announced as part of PwC’s Summer of Community Service program, Wright says that the giving goes on all year around. Many PwC employees simply have more time in the summer to participate. The timing is perfect. With school about to start, many classrooms could use those $5 and $20 gift cards toward supplies.