Sandals may be the footwear of choice for many of the beach bums strutting the sands in Hawaii, but for a few days each fall, cowboy boots just might be more common.

The American Cancer Society's "Boots on the Beach" fundraiser is one of a number of notable examples of the ways employees of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. have chosen to contribute their time and money to a new charity campaign started by the company last year.

Jim Klein, a Culver City-based private wealth manager for Merrill Lynch, caught wind in 2003 of the "Boots on the Beach" event, which brings charity-minded folks together in Honolulu for a cowboy-themed gala fundraiser benefiting cancer research.

For each the past four years, Klein has lassoed about a dozen colleagues and flown them to Hawaii, where they have donned cowboy boots and helped raise more than $50,000 for cancer research. And he was able to increase his involvement in the fundraiser when in 2006 Merrill Lynch started its Employee Giving Campaign, which matched employee contributions with corporate donations to select philanthropic organizations.

But for Klein, this drive is personal. His grandmother died of cancer and his mother is a cancer survivor.

Klein, whose previous philanthropic efforts include work with St. John's Hospital and fundraising for his high school, said his upbringing played a big part in his decision to participate in charitable causes. "I was raised by my parents to give back to the communities in which you grow up," he said.

Merrill Lynch has been involved in philanthropic work in the field of education since the early 20th century. But Donald Gemson, medical director for Merrill Lynch, said there has been a growing interest among its employees to expand the company's charitable focus to include health.

So last year the company teamed up with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association to create the Employee Giving Campaign. The campaign encourages Merrill Lynch employees to participate in charitable causes or donate money to either of those two organizations or United Way.

"A lot of the employees became interested in working with those associations," Gemson said. "We have employees taking more interest in volunteering their time."

Eddy Bayardelle, president of the Merrill Lynch Foundation, said the campaign boasted a 68 percent participation rate in just its first year. As part of the drive, Merrill Lynch matches its employees' contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $3,000.

Through varied philanthropic efforts, the company's 2006 campaign raised more than $13 million for the organizations.

The creation of this annual campaign reflects a growing trend toward corporate-sponsored philanthropy.

Recent surveys by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, an international forum of business leaders promoting corporate giving, have shown consistent increases in corporate charity in recent years. In 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, about 100 companies who responded to the group's survey, including Merrill Lynch, gave nearly $10 billion in charitable contributions a 14 percent increase over the previous year.

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