Josh Tarasoff '01

Promoting volunteerism on Wall Street
June 1, 2007
Josh Tarasoff '01

Sam Nicols

There is no workplace sexier than Wall Street. But the hunt for money, power, and status can drive financiers to hellish work hours. When I-bankers get out of the office, they have plenty of stress to release, and weekends spent doing community service are usually low on the priority list. Or so they used to be. Josh Tarasoff, with his groundbreaking organization, Wall Street Volunteers, is working to cultivate a new attitude of philanthropy in a world inherently obsessed with profit.

Wall Street Volunteers is an online clearinghouse that connects working professionals with nonprofit organizations. Members get access to a database of service organizations, a list of volunteer opportunities, and a comprehensive directory of fellow members and their service interests, so that those drawn to the same charity work can arrange to coordinate their volunteer schedules. Since its founding in 2005, Wall Street Volunteers has attracted more than 1,600 members and is linked with thirty-five nonprofit organizations.

Tarasoff, who majored in philosophy, says he did not get involved in service projects while at Duke but became "ethically engaged" through material he encountered in his classes. "That's when the thought process began," he recalls, "but it took a couple years to work itself out." Tarasoff spent his college summers in New York as an intern at Goldman Sachs and, upon graduating, accepted a full-time job at the firm.

After more than a year on the job, Tarasoff started making time to volunteer around New York on weekends. He often invited friends and co-workers to accompany him, and many became inspired to pursue their own service work. As Tarasoff explains, "It's not that people don't want to volunteer, but rather that first step is not always presented in the right way." That realization was the idea behind the founding of Wall Street Volunteers—providing the initiative, and making it easier, for people to volunteer.

Tantalized by the entrepreneurial opportunity, Tarasoff left Goldman Sachs in December 2003 to start building Wall Street Volunteers. At Goldman Sachs, he says, "I worked so much that I was disconnected from any sense of community. It's healthy for people to expand their realm of concern beyond their profession and to be a part of something other than the workplace." He spent more than a year raising funds and establishing a network of interested nonprofit organizations and launched Wall Street Volunteers in 2005.

Recently the organization achieved 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status—a "huge turning point," Tarasoff says, because it smooths the process of raising money, forming a board, and, most important, creating formal relationships with foundations and firms. Nonprofit organizations more accustomed to being ignored by Wall Street firms are jumping at the chance to build personal, effective connections with them through Tarasoff's organization, which now has a long waiting list of nonprofits eager to get on board.

Tarasoff, who received an M.B.A. from Columbia University in May, has a new pet project these days—starting his own hedge fund. But he says he plans to continue serving as executive director of Wall Street Volunteers. And, if the group's growing number of volunteers is any indication, Wall Street's realm of influence is expanding from stocks and bonds to people who could use a helping hand.