Prime Partners: Hands On Network

CEO: Michelle Nunn Grade: A

CEO: Michelle Nunn
Grade: A
Winner’s Statement

On a crisp autumn morning in Rockaway Park, New York, 350 corporate volunteers descend on the Region 5 Scholars’ Academy. They splash fresh beige paint on faded classroom walls, install storage-unit doors, repaint stripes on the basketball court, and plant hundreds of shrubs and trees. These aren’t just low-level cubicle jockeys, either. There’s Carol Tomé, CFO of Home Depot, planting anemone bulbs. Mark Hass, CEO of public-relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee, is sanding bookshelves. Jones Apparel CEO Peter Boneparth paints the faculty lounge.


The project is the essence of Hands On Network, a 17-year-old group that links national corporations and local nonprofits to fuel volunteer efforts in community-service projects. Last year, Hands On marshaled 168,000 employee-volunteers to work more than 1.4 million hours at 48,538 projects.

The idea is elegant: For big companies, Hands On Network provides the employee-volunteerism equivalent of an IT contractor or office-supplies vendor–a partner that delivers consistent service across multiple locations. Hands On coordinates work on the ground, makes sure things happen on schedule, and reports back on results.

Early on, Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli saw an opportunity “to have Hands On Network serve as the convening body among a whole host of corporations nationwide,” says Brad Shaw, the Home Depot senior vice president who now shepherds the relationship. So Nardelli roped in some friends, helping Hands On cofounder Michelle Nunn recruit other big corporations into her Corporate Service Council. From 29 executives in 2004, the CSC now has 62 CEOs on its board. When that many big shots pack into a room, Nunn says, “there’s a healthy degree of competition.” Bosses press their employees to sign up–and they tend to get their own hands dirty, too.

Now Home Depot does community service in 1,100 locations through Hands On. In this year’s “Month of Service,” some 40,000 of its employees completed 1,000 projects. Hands On identifies potential leaders within the company who can conceive and organize projects, and it helps tie disparate efforts into a coherent whole.

Which, for Home Depot and other companies, adds up to an easy win. Why wouldn’t any self-respecting honcho join in? “If we can pick up a couple of corporations every year,” Boneparth says, “I think we’ll be way ahead of the game.”

And with that, he turns back to work.


Data Point

Volunteers who worked on at least three Hands On projects in 2005: 12,070