Corporate volunteering comes in a number of different forms, the most common being that businesses give their staff one day off a year to volunteer with their favourite charity. This model needs to be significantly tweaked in order for it to be of most benefit to both employees and the company.
There are 3 groups who have a stake in volunteering: the employee, the company, and the charity. And all 3 need to gain a measurable positive outcome from the experience, for it to be considered a success.
Charity partners are often reluctant to say no to their corporate partners, even if a day of volunteering won’t benefit them. This is because volunteering is frequently linked to other forms of support, including a financial contribution. Thus they have an interest in keeping their funders happy.
Just like any other initiative the company takes, if there is a considered strategy behind a volunteering program, there is a greater chance of success, and a meaningful value exchange between both parties can be achieved.
Often the most effective resources you can offer a charity are the skills that you utilise on a daily basis. If you are an accountant, lawyer, or provider of professional services there is a strong chance that you are better at providing those services than you are at building houses, mending leaky roofs, or fixing the electrical work at the local scout hall.
When I suggest this to companies, I’m often met with the following question: If we only offer our professional services on a pro-bono basis, will we miss out on the engagement and the shared experience of actually ‘getting our hands dirty’?
After all, isn’t part of a good corporate social responsibility (CSR) program the shared experience that leads to higher levels of staff engagement, improved morale, and increased staff retention?
This is where a strategic approach is required. As your employees to answer this question: Who is this volunteering really for? If the honest answer is the charity partner, then the provision of those professional services they are likely in need of will achieve that outcome. If your employee is more concerned with volunteering being a vehicle for team building, then the direction of the program needs to be different. Neither approach is not wrong, they simply require different strategies.
This discussion doesn’t mean that there is no place for volunteering days. In fact, one of the most memorable days I have had, was the day I lead 103 members of AIA Insurance into the Khlong Toei slums of Bangkok in Thailand. For close to eight hours they all toiled away for the benefit of people they had never met, nor were they likely to ever meet again. They transformed a dilapidated school in the slums into something that represented hope, love and compassion. The experience that was shared in the slums is still spoken about today, years later, by the AIA members and the school stands as a reminder to those in the slums that people do care.
If you have a volunteering as part of your CSR platform or you are looking to introduce one, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there a strategy behind your corporate volunteering?
- Is it aligned to your values?
- Who is it really designed to benefit? And are those who are meant to benefit from the program, in fact doing so?
- Can you re-engineer your CSR platform to create a multiplier effect or shared experience?
- What is the return to your business and how are you measuring it?
If you can answer the last of the 5 questions in the affirmative and clearly articulate the positive return to YOUR business from the program, then you are well ahead of 90% of organisations who are engaged in corporate volunteering.
If your answer to the final question is in the negative, then you are missing opportunities and you are failing to capitalise on the returns you might otherwise have.
It’s not only in the community’s interests for you to get this right, but it is in your interests.