Blog: Corporate volunteerism - not why, but how

Published: 10 Apr 2019

Author: Emma Sullivan
Blog: Corporate volunteerism - not why, but how

Encouraging volunteering among staff forms a core part of many companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies. There’s no shortage of commentary as to why this is a good idea, whether it is to help staff develop new skills or to give back to the local community.

The view that ‘doing good’ is good for business is widely held by senior executives, for example the billionaire financial executive Larry Fink, as he showed in his most recent annual letter to CEOs. Strong initiatives for employee volunteering have even been proven to help with attracting talent, reducing employee turnover and increasing top-line revenue.

Yet to date there has been little or no guidance as to how to run corporate volunteering initiatives, so that business interests and public interest align. Furthermore, there seem to be no practical steps to support companies of varying shapes and sizes to engage in volunteerism.

I’m interested in these issues because I run a start-up, Prospela, which enables professionals looking for a volunteer role to be matched with students who are seeking career inspiration and advice. Through one-to-one chats online, students get valuable inside information on prospective careers.

I explored these issues further last year, when I travelled some 11,000 miles across the USA and Canada on my Churchill Fellowship. I wanted to establish practical steps that employers of all sizes can take to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and scale of their volunteerism and understand the extent to which technology could be an enabler.

I saw lots of good practice during my travels. Airbnb maintained a database of volunteering opportunities, which employees added to themselves by nominating charities they were interested in volunteering for. Some organisations I visited, including Benevity and EY, used data analytics to measure the business impact of corporate volunteerism, using metrics such as employee retention.

Ultimately, I found that there was no silver bullet for the success of a corporate volunteering scheme: it’s about doing multiple things well on a continuous basis. Specifically, my findings posit that there are 10 Benchmarks for strong Corporate Volunteerism practice.

One of the strongest examples I encountered was at the high-growth start-up Optimizely. Like other organisations I visited, they used digital channels to promote volunteering opportunities, but this was just one element of a marketing machine that was effectively communicating that their social strategy was a key part of their organisation’s mission. There were posters advertising volunteering opportunities on the office walls and the CSR team were a highly-visible presence in the organisation. This clarity of strategy and mission extended to how Optimizely communicated its brand externally.

Now I’m back in the UK, I hope to use the insights I’ve gained to help shape future volunteering programmes through Prospela. I’ve created a website, csrtech.org, to showcase outstanding examples of the ten benchmarks, alongside the use of tech in corporate volunteerism, in the hope of inspiring others to explore its potential.

If you’re someone looking to use your professional skills in a volunteer role, or you organise volunteering within your company, I’d love to get your feedback on my findings and ideas, or to discuss possibilities for your corporate volunteering scheme. Please get in touch.

Emma’s Fellowship is supported by The Rank Foundation.

Explore Emma’s Fellowship findings at csrtech.org

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