3 Important Shifts in Social Impact

Transformative Volunteering, Employee Volunteering, Volunteer Leadership

What is the key to making your employee volunteering and giving programs scalable, measurable and meaningful? Best practices? Unlimited resources? Realized Worth’s Chris Jarvis suggests three shifts in perspective and intention that make all the difference.

The key questions being asked about social impact programs – which now reach far beyond traditional ideas of volunteering and philanthropy – are, “Is it scalable? Is it measurable? Is it meaningful?” Every success factor in the history of Social Impact programs is wrapped up in these questions. We write a lot about the tactics to ensure your strategies achieve each of the above, and here’s how to think of them at a macro level:

From Programs to Movements

Early, reactionary programs like Dollars for Doers still have an important place in Corporate Social Impact, but they don’t drive scale – not on their own. A social movement, on the other hand, creates its own energy, allowing for exponential growth and impact. Social movements don’t start with CSR practitioners who are hired to build strategic programs and they’re not inspired by executives speaking from podiums. Social movements are driven by people – employees on the ground – who are intrinsically motivated by specific causes, issues, or outcomes and who are empowered to use their personal social capital for broad societal benefits. To allow this to happen, a “program” mindset doesn’t work. A “movement” mindset does.

Social movements are a “purposive and collective attempt of a number of people to change individuals or societal institutions and structures.” To start social movements that can begin to address far-reaching social issues, it’s essential to mobilize people and establish legitimacy.

This approach allows for benefits to accrue such as:

  • a stronger participation in prosocial shared values across the company;
  • an integrated approach to corporate community investment whereby business goals, such as improved diversity and inclusion, may be realized in the immersive learning environment of employee volunteering;
  • intrinsic motivation among employees to own the movement rather than simply participate in company-sponsored giving and volunteering events.

From Participation to Agency

Participation is critical to the success of any employee giving and volunteering program, but a sense of agency–a belief that I can influence my life and the world around me–is the only thing that sustains a social movement. We are still in a time where most social impact programs are measured according to participation rates; how many employees, how much money, how many hours–and yet, we say we want meaningful impacts. We want more engaged, happier employees. We want more resilient, equitable communities. We want companies led by people who care about more than profit. The volume of participation will never get us to those results. The sense of agency instilled in participants–the change that happens in them–will.

In the social sciences, agency is both the feeling of choice or self-determination coupled with the ability or resources to act accordingly. Most employee giving and volunteering programs are measured according to participation rates; how many employees, how much money, how many hours, how many students helped, etc. These are important output metrics, but they are a ‘stop on the way’ to the more important result of agency. This is achieved by shifting from a primarily transactional model of giving and volunteering to the Transformative Approach. In doing so, the primary metrics of success are focused on the fact that we are partnering with communities in a way that change the perspectives of employees in three categories:

  1. Psychological: This is a change in the understanding of the self, measured by how employees perceive themselves, their role in the world, and their ability to make a meaningful contribution. This perspective transformation produces leaders who exhibit improved situational awareness, increased sense of competency, improved creativity innovation, empathetic leadership, and increased engagement.
  2. Convictional: This is a revision of belief systems and knowledge frameworks measured in how willing employees are to admit and critically examine their implicit bias and worldview. The result of such critical reflection produces adaptability, resilience, inclusive leadership, and the ability to maintain a sense of meaning in the face of monotony.
  3. Behavioral: This is a change in the decision-making processes that determine our actions and influence our lifestyle. The benefits of such behavior changes in the workplace are a breakdown of silos across the enterprise, proactively sharing knowledge, diversity of voice and experience, investment in team success over individual success, effective and mutually beneficial partnerships, and empathetic perspectives.

Chris Jarvis

Exec. Director RWI

From Helping to Belonging

Many social impact programs prioritize helping others. The problem with a posture of helping is that it positions one party in power over the other. It says, “You need what I have.” If we want to build scalable programs led by committed volunteers who achieve meaningful impacts, we cannot posture ourselves as the savior swooping in to help the needy. Social impact results from building relationships, knowing each other, breaking down barriers. Communities are people, not projects. While “helping” may seem like an appealing motivator to employees in the short-term, it fails to achieve the impacts we want

It makes sense that terms like “helping” and “doing” are familiar. Transactional models of giving and volunteering are built on strong and often well-intentioned motivations to make a difference by making changes to the world. These are important terms and ideas, and when we’re able, we should certainly help where help is needed. But the Transformative Approach focuses on the change that takes place in the person helping as well as the person being helped, which begins to move volunteers to a sense of belonging, instead of helping, as the barriers between “us” and “them” break down, allowing for deeper human connection and, ultimately, greater impact. When we are all on the same playing field; it is no longer a choice to be complicit in a society that perpetuates systems of oppression.

The Transformative Approach allows us to reach beyond the immediate, transactional contexts and circumstances of volunteers and their communities. Instead of just exchanging time and resources for feeling like we made a difference, the volunteer experience becomes an internalized journey – and the “reward” becomes pro-social human beings with a greater capacity for empathy. When we belong to each other in a community, we are motivated to address the underlying obstacles to peace and prosperity because homelessness, hunger, and disease are no longer “their” problem, but ours – as a neighborhood, a community, a country, a species. The problems belong to all of us and we belong to each other.

The Big Question

If you’re a CSR practitioner, you are probably challenged to find ways to increase numbers without adding resources (time, people, money). This is likely your reality because, despite the growth of profits since 2008 and recent corporate tax windfalls for the private sector, investments in CSR and employee giving and volunteering are falling behind. So you’re probably asking yourself – “how do I position our company to be ready for these three trends and still achieve program growth and scale?”

As a result, some practitioners are looking to further expand the leadership of employees in community investment programs through:

  • reallocating a portion of community investment funds to train key employee leaders to increase participation and measurable impact;
  • formalizing employee volunteer training processes and materials across the enterprise;
  • adopting the Transformative Approach to create greater agency among employees while tying the results to business priorities;
  • moving from a change management and promotion strategy of emails and conference calls to a new strategy focused on employee empowerment fueled by tapping into the intrinsic motivation of a social movement.

Employee volunteering and giving programs must become more than the provision of a service. Done correctly, these practices can transform our values and how we perceive ourselves in new and challenging contexts; they can also expand how we perceive and empathize with others — some of the most fundamental qualities of an excellent leader.

Realized Worth helps you take a transformative approach to volunteering. We work with companies to create scalable and measurable volunteering programs that empower and engage employees, focus on empathy and inclusivity, and align with your most important business objectives. Talk to us today to learn more!

Transformative VolunteeringEmployee VolunteeringVolunteer Leadership

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