The Volunteer CEO

It’s a scary little idea with a lot of potential. And your boss might hate it.


Volunteerism is encouraged or even required by some credit unions as a part of their corporate identity. In many cases, executive leaders can be found swinging shovels or ladling out soup side by side with the rest of the organization during community events.

But there are many other ways to lead by example to truly instill philanthropy and volunteerism as core values of your institution instead of just a check mark on the company calendar.

Business leaders are increasingly vilified in the media today, and perhaps not always unjustly.  Some corporate CEOs make more money every year than their companies as a whole pay in taxes. Worse yet, those who have monetary excess sometimes flaunt it (or at least let their kids flaunt it) even in periods of extreme economic hardship for others.

Executive individuals are often thought of as commanders at the helm of their ship. But with the recent passing of astronaut and commander of the Apollo 11 mission Neil Armstrong, it’s worth remembering that he and the rest of his team received just a small per diem (equaling around $50 a day now) on top of their basic officer’s salary in reward for the history-making moon landing mission. They received no extra hazard pay and they even had to pay for room and board on government property. In other words, they had to rely on the luxury of regular parachutes as they guided their vessel to success, not golden ones.

So what if more corporate captains were willing to forgo their annual raises or bonuses and defer those funds to local charities and school systems? What if they were willing to donate their time to bringing executive insights to struggling community organizations and small businesses? 

Writers increasingly work for free (though not always by choice), as do marketers and PR firms, doctors, and yes, even lawyers.  The CEO of Whole Foods donated approximately 50% of his annual compensation to an animal welfare nonprofit, says INC. Magazine and it’s important to remember that in these economic times, a donation of time, business expertise, and leadership can be even more valuable than money.

The aim here is not to beat up on the wealthy and powerful, demonize them, or demand some sort of cosmic penance for success (one year of servitude for every vacation home and private submarine?). Instead it’s to recognize that the potential impact and influence of your volunteerism becomes more and more powerful the higher up the ladder you go.


Aug. 31, 2012


  • I might ask Aaron Pugh how much he makes. How many people does he help through financial hard times like we do at credit unions. Credit Unions that are constantly burdened with more regulations and barriers to helping members, which is why we exist in the first place. Aaron sounds like a "spread the wealth" kind of guy and i wonder if he has ever worked at a credit union? Neither the CEO's nor the employees can be said to be "OVERPAID" sir! Mr. Pugh obviously does not understand the concept and ideals of free markets and American individualism! My guess is that he couldn't run a credit union if he tried and that he has an attitude toward those who do so successfully. There is certainly more to than writing an essay once in while and i am not afraid to say so! Let's start fooling around with his pay and see if he feels the same way.
    Larry Thrasher