There’s a lot of ink spilled this time of year – “best of”/”worst of” lists, top 10 cat videos (OK – go to that link, but come back and read this after!) etc. While the prevailing sentiment out there is captured by this t-shirt, we beg to differ. The practice of employee volunteering is steadily improving. Every week, we are impressed with the sophistication being demonstrated by practitioners, nonprofits, and with volunteers themselves. In this spirit, we thought we’d look back on the year and share a few of our favorite things.

By Corey Diamond

1. PROOF! Employees who volunteer are more engaged and are more likely to stay.

Last year we put a call out for Canadian companies to join us in a study of employee volunteering and engagement in the Great White North. Together with Veraworks, we surveyed and studied five companies to determine the ROI of their employee volunteering program, and which program “optimizers” lead to higher engagement.

Here’s what we found:

  • Participation in company organized volunteering is linked to higher levels of engagement for respondents. However, volunteering conducted by employees independently of the company is not linked to engagement.
  • Elements that appear to augment the engagement lift of company-organized volunteering are as follows:
    • Supervisor approval/encouragement
    • When volunteer motivation is driven by desire to gain new skills
    • When volunteer motivation is driven by desire to build resume/advance career
    • Higher “dosage” of company organized volunteering (40-80) hours
  • Elements that appear not to augment the engagement lift of company organized volunteering:
    • Conducting volunteering using paid time off
    • Offering volunteer grants

(Kind of surprising, right? Reach out if you’d like to learn more.)

2. Embedding a volunteer program within your company culture works!

At RW headquarters, we live in a world of proposals, workplans, slide decks, tracked changes and forgetting to unmute on conference calls. While we’re helping to reinforce the “plumbing” of a company’s volunteering program, we are often separated from the actual impact achieved by these programs.

From time to time, we check to see if the behind-the-scenes work is leading to change on the ground. This happened recently at the retail store of a high profile client, where we were told how the introduction of the employee volunteering program – and assigning a Volunteer Champion – had galvanized staff around an issue, and actually led to higher engagement and lower absenteeism.

Check out RW co-founder Angela Parker’s firsthand account of what happened. It’s a great reminder to pull yourself away from your screen and talk to some people about how your program is affecting them.

3. PROOF! Being “voluntold” doesn’t work.[ref]Basically, being “voluntold” is when management says it’s optional, but we all know it’s mandatory.[/ref]

The field of employee volunteering continues to focus on outputs such as participation rates and hours volunteered. While you can’t measure outcomes or impact without tracking these types of outputs, focusing solely on increasing the number of employee volunteer actions can actually have negative implications.


Creating the space for meaningful experiences should be the focus of your program, rather than participation alone.


A 2016 National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School study: From Good Soldiers to Psychologically Entitled: Examining When and Why Citizenship Behavior Leads to Deviance, found that employees who engage in organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), which includes participating in volunteering programs, because they feel forced or pressured to, are subsequently more likely to display negative behavior in the workplace. The negative behaviors observed from the research range from stealing office supplies, neglecting core work duties and intentionally working more slowly than one could have, to cursing at fellow co-workers, treating customers poorly, and behaving rudely toward co-workers.

Readers of this blog probably already know this: meaningful experiences are more likely to occur if the volunteer is intrinsically motivated to participate prosocially. While most people start with an extrinsic motivation to participate (i.e., your cubicle buddy asked you to join them at the food bank), a volunteer event should focus on connecting the volunteer to the beneficiary/cause, allowing her to internalize the program for herself.

Creating the space for meaningful experiences should be the focus of your program, rather than participation alone.

In 2016, we witnessed how employee volunteering is changing lives across the globe.

Here are a few examples of some great work being done:

Australia

In terms of corporate programs, Australian companies seem to have discovered a reasonable middle ground between being the first to fail or the last to try. Evidenced by the strong attendance at the RW workshop series this past August, companies are eager to learn about innovative, global practices. They’re inquisitive about what works and why. Rather than diving headlong into the most recent “best” practice, they weigh the options and take conscious steps forward into ideas that are likely to succeed as well as push past the boundaries of what’s been done before.

Want some examples of companies in Australia doing great work? Check out Bankwest, Atlassian, Woodside, Deloitte Australia, and Alcoa. We heard incredible stories and saw great work coming from the men and women leading the charge at these organizations.

South Africa

In South Africa, a company’s desire to do good seems directly connected to the desire of the people to heal the painful aspects of their history and celebrate their rich culture. At a well attended leadership forum in Johannesburg, RW co-founders had the opportunity to witness local company representatives mapping how they can work together to align their CSR work and volunteer programs with Impact 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Unlike other leadership forums, the South Africa group brought the discussion one step closer to home by proposing an alignment with their country goals developed as part of the new millennium. Attendees in the room who had joined from other parts of the world were inspired to consider what it would take to bring the Global Goals closer to home in their own countries.

India

As many of our readers will know, India adopted the “2% law” in 2014. What that means is companies are required to give at least 2% of their net profits to charitable causes. Two years later, the effectiveness of this law remains hotly debated.

Some say the change in law is waking up corporate India to its wider social responsibilities. “The so-called 2% law has brought CSR (corporate social responsibility) from the fringes to the boardroom,” argues Bimal Arora, chair of the Delhi based Centre for Responsible Business. “Companies now have to think seriously about the resources, timelines and strategies needed to meet their legal obligations.”

Maybe more significantly, we’ve spoken with employees at companies like SAP India who are engaged in longterm, meaningful volunteering initiatives. Their comments? The 2% law has increased awareness and validated the importance of their community work.

Latin America

The development of corporate volunteering programs throughout Latin America is growing at a rapid pace among organizations large and small that are starting to deeply understand the value proposition and multiple benefits of these programs. Nonprofits and companies, along with other stakeholders, are building strategic partnerships that are yielding stronger impacts. Networks like Voluntare offer resources, support, and research to thousands of members across Latam, while research around metrics and the value proposition of corporate volunteer programs can be seen everywhere, including GDFE’s upcoming guide in Argentina and UNV Peru’s Red Nacional Soy Voluntaria in partnership with CENTRUM. New research that will be available in 2017 as well. IMPACT 2030 also made its first debut in Argentina and Brasil this past November, with Google and Realized Worth hosting the first regional leadership forums in this part of the world. Hearing the ideas and work that participants are doing in their organizations and communities was a clear indication that Latam is growing strong and steady.

And right here in North America we are seeing more evidence of volunteer programming that accounts for the weight of responsibility that accompanies the power corporations possess in the developed world. Perhaps more than ever before, the state of our society demands that those of us who can fight for justice and equality on behalf of those who are marginalized or living in poverty or fear. Companies are the gatekeepers of this responsibility, and this year RW has seen them become increasingly strategic as they’ve taken that responsibility more seriously. While we don’t celebrate the difficulties faced by populations all over the world, we are grateful to see companies rising to the occasion, using their great power for good.

We learned that of all the “Global Goals,” #17 may be the most important of them.

This year, Impact 2030 celebrated its first official summit in New York City at the UN Global Headquarters. Leaders from all over the world came together and created action teams through which their companies can collaborate and contribute to the achievement of the Global Goals. The movement continues to grow and live into its global name while companies, one by one, are demonstrating what it looks like to embrace Global Goal #17: Partnerships for the Goals.

GSK/SAP collaboration
One inspiring example comes from SAP, a German multinational software company, and GSK, an British pharmaceutical company, brought their respective areas of expertise together to send employees on “social sabbatical” assignments in Kigali, Rwanda.

The program assembles international teams to solve business challenges for entrepreneurial and educational organizations in emerging markets, while helping employees strengthen their leadership competencies, cross-industry knowledge and intercultural sensitivity.”

While both companies are candid about the challenges faced, this is an incredible partnership where the key issue was not sales, target markets, or competitive advantage. The key question: how can the private sector as a whole (rather than as separate entities) collaborate with the public sector to generate longterm impact? To read more about the partnership, click here.


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


Corey Diamond
Chief Operating Officer
coreydiamond@realizedworth.com
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