In addition to these trends and challenges that are still going strong, 2015 brought with it a wave of new ideas. We’re not going to say they’re all good ones, but without a doubt, corporate volunteering is on a trajectory of positive growth and change. Check out these three trends that emerged in 2015 and what we expect to see in 2016 – let us know if you agree. Here’s to a peaceful and productive new year!

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1. Smarter Programs

If you remember corporate volunteering programs about 10 years ago, you may agree that it was all sort of … cute. About 20% of one staff member’s time was allocated to organizing an event or two per year with some companies going so far as to help interested employees find organizations to volunteer with. Beyond that, there was not a lot of motivation to put additional resources behind an employee benefit that may or may not produce business results.

We’re happy to report that times have changed – for the better! Three encouraging indicators:

  1. Volunteering produces engagement and engagement produces dollars. Big dollars. It turns out the business benefits of these programs are multiple – and measuring the direct ROI has become a priority.
  2. One staff person cannot and should not manage thousands of individual volunteers on his or her own. HR never thought the numbers of employee volunteers would be so high, but now that they are, CSR teams are growing and CSR managers are being invited to contribute to strategic business planning.
  3. Engagement is not produced by micromanaging or spoon-feeding. Employees who volunteer do so because they want to – and many of them are asking to be recognized by leading elements of the program. Companies are better than ever at empowering employees to lead. Most now set up and manage a structure of employee volunteer leaders. There are improvements to these structures coming, but this shift in how programs are managed is a major step in the right direction.

With these changes, we’re pleased to say 2015 was a year of smarter programs. As the measurement of ROI improves, CSR managers gain more experience, and as program structures are tried and tested, 2016 will likely prove to be our cleverest year yet.

2. Renewed Focus on Pro Bono and Skills-based Volunteering

For better or for worse, the trend of measuring the ROI of corporate volunteering is accompanied by a measure of fear and trepidation. Practitioners have a difficult time proving the value of what is referred to as general or traditional volunteering. When a group of employees paints a wall at the Boys and Girls Club, what benefit does that bring to the business? Team building? Camaraderie? Improved employee morale? Even if those results are produced, they’re frankly not good enough. And so, rather than digging to the root of the problem, companies are throwing out traditional volunteering in favor of skills-based volunteering.

I’ll explain in a moment why this is a disappointing trend (even though an increase in skilled volunteering is in itself very encouraging), but for now, let me just provide a few facts.

According to the 2015 CECP Giving in Numbers report:

  • 51% of companies provided pro bono service programs in 2014, up from 40% in 2012.
  • From 2012-2014, offerings of pro bono and board service had higher growth rates than any other volunteer programs, demonstrating an instinct to infuse societal engagement with employees’ skills.
  • In 2014, 29% of companies offered pro bono service opportunities, but not a traditional company-wide day of service.

Note: pro bono service is a type of employee engagement that falls within skills-based service. However, unlike any other type pro bono service is recorded in the Giving in Numbers survey as a non-cash or in-kind contribution.

In addition to the numbers that prove the trend, RW has experienced a major shift in the types of assistance and information requested of our team. Rather than asking for volunteer policies and broad engagement strategies, companies are asking for benchmarking against companies with skills-based programs, how to find and engage high potential volunteers, and whether to narrow the focus of their programs. These are all good questions and we’re honored to be part of the conversation. At the same time, we hope to broaden the horizon and encourage an evolved perspective on the inclusion of traditional volunteering. Keep reading to learn more about what we mean by that.

3. Lack of Patience for Traditional Activities

While the increase in skills-based volunteering is an encouraging trend, the lack of patience for traditional activities is a bit concerning. Because practitioners are under pressure to prove the value of their programs, it’s easier to move away from painting walls and serving at homeless shelters – activities that are at best pretty fun, and at worst waste of time – in favor of mentoring, STEM education, and tech-related volunteering. We tend to breathe a sigh of relief when our employee volunteers are tutoring students instead of planting gardens. Why? Perceived value. No one questions the value of employees using their skills to increase the skills of a student in need. And that’s the root of the problem: how do we increase the actual value (and as a result the perceived value) of traditional volunteering?

Two reasons 2016 will be a year of increasing the value of traditional volunteering:

    1. Do you ever wonder why the same people show up over and over to your volunteering events? Statistically, only 25% of employees at your company have ever volunteered. (This number is even lower in Canada and the UK, higher in Australia, much lower in Eastern Europe and the BLOC countries.) The ones who show up are those who were intrinsically motivated to do so, most likely meaning they had a prior experience with volunteering outside of the company’s program. 50% of employees who volunteer for the first time in 2016 will do so through their place of work – and this is the group companies are challenged to attract and to keep. Skilled activities are great, but they tend to be a more appropriate fit for experienced volunteers. Companies that want high participation numbers need to provide a gateway for first time volunteers through low commitment, engaging, traditional activities.
    2. But here’s the thing: traditional activities should never (ever!) fail to benefit the business in the same way skill based activities do. In this sense, RW is just as impatient with old school volunteering as our clients are. We are not interested in seeing a group of employees paint a wall and walk away unaffected. Traditional activities should always incorporate a specific set of fundamental elements that create space for employees to be deeply affected. A percentage of these employees will transition into program leadership and become some of the program’s strongest recruiters. Additionally, traditional activities should always offer strong opportunities for experienced volunteers to employ and sharpen hard skills such as project management, organizing teams, and public speaking. Traditional volunteering in its current form is not good enough. 2016 will be the year of volunteerism evolving into activities that are transformative to the employee, beneficial to the business, and impactful to the community.

These are three of the emergent trends RW experienced in 2015. Plan to hear them discussed in depth at conferences and among practitioners throughout 2016. Other trends such as global collaboration, skepticism and scrutiny of the current international volunteering model, smarter practitioners, impact measurement, and a focus on growth and scale will continue to weave into the conversation. We look forward to joining you in the discussion! See any major trends we missed? Please reach out at or (855) 926-4678.

Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
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