2010 Student Writing Contest Case

You were hired two years ago as the Director of Human Resources for Dawson & Engels, the third largest construction company in a Midwestern U.S. city. Shortly after you joined the company, you realized that D&E, while respected for its quality work, was behind the times in terms of being a community citizen. The company’s main competitors proudly featured their many donations of time and money to the community on their websites and in their other marketing materials, but your company was completely mute on the topic, even though many of its employees did community service on a personal basis. You felt that this apparent lack of community mindedness might help explain D&E’s downward slip on the city’s list of top 100 companies while your competitors steadily held their positions. You also felt that both the employees and the city were missing out on productive partnerships. Thus, with the assistance of the marketing director, you worked hard to organize an employee volunteer program.

The program is now finally up and running, with its own page on the company’s website, a growing database of company-approved service opportunities, a modest amount of paid time off for volunteering, a mechanism for recognizing outstanding volunteers, company grants for special projects, and other attractive components. Through a great deal of internal marketing, you’ve generated a healthy amount of employee participation—without which, of course, the program would be a failure—and the momentum is growing. But now you have to write your first negative message related to this initiative.

Carolyn Smythe, who works in the Purchasing Office, has just emailed you her request that the Center for Non-Violence (the CNV) be included in D&E’s program. In other words, she would like D&E’s official approval for the CNV, which means that it would be included in the list of volunteer opportunities for employees, that it would be eligible for a grant from D&E, and that she—and anyone else who wanted to volunteer for this organization—could get paid two hours per month to work for the CNV.

You don’t feel that you can accept her request. The CNV is not officially supported by any particular political party, but it obviously leans pretty far to the left. Smythe argues for the inclusion of the CNV on the grounds that their main work is to conduct conflict-resolution strategies in the schools—strategies that are politically neutral—but the organization also conducts “peace camps” in the summer and has a history of protesting military solutions to political problems. (The “About Us” part of the CNV’s website explains that the organization was originally founded by peace activists in the 1970s who wanted a better solution than military school for students with behavior problems.) Actually, you’re in favor of the work this organization does; in fact, your own son participated in a CNV program at his elementary school, and you were impressed with what he learned about respecting others’ opinions, negotiating, and finding creative compromises. Given the recent outbreaks of violence in schools and other public places, you personally feel that the skills taught by the CNV are needed now more than ever. But you know that your bosses are politically conservative, and so is the city overall. Plus, Dawson and Engels, the two company founders, are both veterans. You’re worried that D&E’s support of the CNV would cost the company business and be an affront to the company executives.

The print and online guidelines for the volunteer program state that, in the interest of fairness to all D&E employees, organizations need to be neutral on political and religious grounds in order to be approved for inclusion in D&E’s volunteer program.


Write a refusal memorandum to Carolyn explaining why her favored organization cannot be included, and see if you can think of an alternative course of action for her to pursue. It is critically important to the volunteer program that you not lose the enthusiasm of the employees or let them start a negative buzz. Keep Carolyn as a supporter of the program while not giving her what she asks for.

*Case developed and submitted by Kathy Rentz, Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of Cincinnati