Angela White, a branch officer at Wells Fargo & Co., knows how to talk with people about money. But for the next few months, she will use her skills not to sell deposits and investment products but to raise funds for the Special Olympics in Sacramento, Calif.

And while she's doing it, she will collect her regular Wells Fargo paycheck.

The 25-year-old Ms. White is one of 59 employees who have traded bankers' hours to work for nonprofit groups since the California bank launched a social-service leave program in 1975.

Staff members are given a chance to work full time on causes that are important to them and useful to the community.

A Coach for the Yankees

In addition to fund-raising for the Special Olympics, Ms. White handles routine office tasks, assigns jobs to volunteers, and spends lots of time with disabled children who participate in the group's athletic programs.

On Saturdays, she coaches the Yankees, one of the organization's local softball teams.

"I love it," Ms. White says. "And, to be honest, it's nice to have a break from being a loan officer."

Most of the charitable causes that Wells supports through the program are mainstream charitable groups, like the Special Olympics, the March of Dimes, and the American Heart Association.

Nontraditional Causes

"But you don't have to be working for a traditional nonprofit to be approved," said Tim Hanlon, a vice president who is program administrator for the Well's community development group.

One Wells banker just returned from helping to set up a center that counsels people who are HIV-positive or otherwise at high risk of contracting AIDS.

Another Wells staff member worked for a group that promotes hearing protection for rock musicians.

The leave program shows a softer side of a company that has earned a reputation for being hard-nosed.

"It has made me anxious to go back to a company that would let me do this, and it's prompted my co-workers to look at Wells in a much more positive light," said Denny Paterno, a vice president in small-business cash management who worked at the AIDS support center.

Rigorous Standards

A corporate responsibility subcommittee judges applications for leaves according to tough standards.

It is not enough for an applicant to be sincere and committed; the employee must set specific, realistic goals and show that the work will address a social problem.

"They put you through the wringer," Ms. White said, recalling the application process.

She passed muster because of her long track record as a volunteer and because her sales experience suggested she would be a good fund-raiser.

To be eligible, employees must have completed three years at Wells and have acceptable performance ratings.

Of the 10 to 12 applications considered each year, about 75% are approved, Mr. Hanlon estimated.

Allotment Based on Time

The company currently budgets 27 months of social service leave time annually. Since leaves can last from one week to six months, the number of people who go through the program varies from year to year. However, program rules have been modified since Wells first launched the plan.

Originally, employees were required to build something tangible where they worked - such as compiling a computer data base or setting up a fund-raising system.

Wells loosened the guidelines last year. The change opened the program to lower-rank Wells employees who lack an easily transferable professional skill.

Quarterly Review

Mr. Hanlon said that Wells president Paul Hazen reviews the program each quarter and has remained an enthusiastic supporter.

One side benefit of the program, Mr. Hanlon added, is that examiners smile on the program when they review community reinvestment activities.

Though social service leaves are not specifically listed as a way to meet CRA requirements, "auditors have been very interested in it," Mr. Hanlon said.

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