I read something in the paper a few weeks ago about the struggle of nonprofits to accommodate sporadic droves of corporate volunteers. The story said that while well intended, volunteers often show up to perform a photo-op-worthy task that’s already well-covered and not necessarily what truly needs to be done. Nonprofits rarely speak up because they don’t want to alienate corporate partners or risk losing donations.

Good corporate volunteerism starts with good intentions, but those good intentions are just the start. First and foremost, you need to be providing something that is helpful. You also need a strategy, and that strategy starts with your company’s mission.

My company is in the defense and aerospace industry, so we focus a lot of our volunteer efforts on helping military families and promoting education in science, technology, engineering and math.

We recently, for example, announced the creation of math and science education centers at Boys & Girls Clubs that serve high populations of military families. We did this because it meets a need our partners have identified: Children of military families move frequently, and Boys & Girls Clubs provide consistency. Our math and science centers will challenge them to develop skills they’ll need in college and their careers, and mentors from my company will be there to help them along the way.

Volunteerism also works best when it’s true volunteerism — not a paid day doing trash pickup in the park, but rather a few hours of your own time, doing something to support a cause that matters to you. Our employees logged tens of thousands of volunteer hours last year — honest-to-goodness, off-the-clock volunteer hours — and many carry the tradition into retirement.

A few weeks ago, one of our retirees showed me some letters from the advisors of school robotics clubs, thanking him for his volunteer group’s recent donation. One teacher wrote about two students in particular — both struggling in school but both enthusiastic in their study of robotics.

“You are helping to make such a difference in these students’ lives,” the teacher wrote.

Our retiree wrote to me: “I thought you would appreciate their letters.”

He thought right.

Randa G. Newsome is Raytheon’s vice president for human resources and global security.

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