Corporate volunteering has the potential to engage employees; yet most programs struggle to build basic awareness and participation, let alone create meaningful engagement. Here’s why.

engagement blog

By Chris Jarvis

Impact is not the same as engagement

Despite the popularity of programmatic elements like skills-based or pro bono volunteering, these expressions of community involvement cannot produce meaningful engagement on their own. Even much vaunted strategic methodologies such as shared value struggle to generate meaningful engagement for employees.

The numbers don’t lie. Despite the incredible growth and resourcing of corporate volunteering strategies over the past three years, participation rates are flat. Internal awareness among employees hasn’t budged. Despite all the new technology to support giving and volunteering, the actual use of these platforms is only marginally better than it was on outdated technology. And practitioners, for the most part, continue to see the same group of employees volunteering over and over again.

Here’s why: we’re confusing efficacy with engagement.

What (or who) is the point?

New corporate citizenship strategies typically promise incredible and laudable capacity for beneficial change. These strategies tend to follow a “command and control” management model based on an approach called “deliberate” strategy as championed by management thought leaders like Michael Porter. This deliberate approach outlines management’s vision and mission that is then broadly communicated to the actors (employees) responsible for its successful execution. In this approach, efficacy is the highest determining principle driving all other principles and means of execution.

Develop the plan. Communicate the plan. Execute. Assess and repeat.

The problem with this approach is that the primary actors – the employees – are viewed as a means to an end and are not necessarily expected to be affected by the change process itself. Employees are a means to an end, but not the end itself, which of course makes perfect sense. It is the entire premise of the industrial revolution where we learned that anyone can be taught a skill, join an assembly line and work with thousands of other employees to produce amazing results. But no single employee, beyond the most senior leaders, need ever understand the process. Show up, do your job, and good things will happen.

That is efficacy. It is not meaningful engagement.

Employees are the point

Meaningful engagement can have multiple definitions depending on the context. Here, we are talking about the employee’s sense of connection to the organization’s goals and objectives and the correlating amount of enthusiasm and positive action they are willing to contribute to the shared outcomes.

In order to achieve meaningful engagement, employees must be invited into the change process itself. The strategic application of resources and activities to produce a change in the world around us does not automatically mean everyone understands or cares about the end result.

In order to achieve meaningful engagement in corporate volunteering, CSR, or any other corporate citizenship activity, people must be invited into a transformative learning experience. When corporate volunteering goes beyond transactional and is instead transformative, participants experience “a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions.” This shift of consciousness can “dramatically and irreversibly alter our way of being in the world.”

Let’s have meaningful engagement

I’m thrilled to be invited to explore this topic and present practical steps on how to make engagement strategies (volunteering and giving) meaningful to employees, meaningful to the business, and meaningful to the community. I will be presenting as part of LBG Canada’s two-day event, Achieving Impact! 2015. I am honored to be joining other practitioners offering expert insights and live examples of achieving impact goals through community investment, employee volunteering and giving activities. Such practitioners will include:

  • Phillip Haid, CEO of Public Inc., a creative agency assisting corporations to enable social change through their business operations.
  • The Right to Play workshop on measuring impact.
  • The CISCO/Public Health Agency of Canada dialogue on how sectors can collaborate to achieve even more impact.

More information

  • Agenda
  • September 29-30 at the RBC Centre in Toronto, Ontario (155 Wellington Street West, 18th Floor, Americas Room).
  • To view a list of hotels near the venue, click here.

I hope to see you there!

More about LBG Canada

LBG Canada is a network of companies seeking to maximize the impact of community investment – for society and for the business. Our network currently includes companies from many sectors, including financial services, pharmaceuticals, retail, telecommunications, pipelines, oil and gas and credit unions, among others. More information about LBG Canada can be found here.

The 2015 LBG Canada Annual Meeting

This is an opportunity for community investment professionals to connect with peers from across the country, to explore emerging trends, and to discuss different approaches to maximize value – for the community, for employees, and for the business.

To access the agenda for the 2015 LBG Canada Annual Meeting, click here.

“The LBG Canada meetings are inspiring. I think that after the two days you go back to the office and you’re refreshed and you’ve heard great ideas from other companies and other community partners.”

 Kia Pyrcz, Senior Community Investment Advisor, Vermilion Energy

Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs. Call us to discuss opportunities for your company, or email us via You can also reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Chris Jarvis
Realized Worth Co-Founder
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn
Follow Realized Worth on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn

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