This is the fourth in a six part series on building better employee volunteer programs, presented by MicroEdge, the leading provider of software and services to the giving community worldwide. Follow the rest of the series here.
When it comes to corporate social responsibility, and the desire on the part of companies to make a positive impact in the world, starting at home, there is a secret weapon that all companies possess, but few, if any, take full advantage. The secret weapon is called employee passion.
The power of this force cannot be overestimated. It has been suggested by Lerner, among others, that the quest for meaning, is perhaps the central hunger in modern industrial society. And more often than not, that hunger expresses itself, not just in a quest for personal meaning, but for meaning in a context that is greater than one’s self.
It’s a subject that can quickly get deeper than most HR managers, with their focus on statistics and the latest metrics, are prepared to go, and yet, to avoid it, is to miss the tremendous opportunity presented by employee volunteerism.
Employee volunteerism is, in fact, on the rise. According to Volunteer Match, back in 1992, only 31% of surveyed companies reported the use of volunteer programs to support core business functions. By 1999, that number had grown to 81%. Today 84% of companies believe that volunteers can help achieve long term social goals.
The range of activities can include anything from participating in a roadside cleanup, to tutoring in the local school district, to longer term, international commitments in a movement known as International Corporate Volunteerism (ICV).
Big companies like IBM, Pfizer, Pepsi and Shell have committed senior level experts on extended assignments overseas. Pfizer has devoted thousands of man-hours to improving quality at a hospital in India. IBM has applied its expertise to transportation and food safety issues in Vietnam. PepsiCorps has deployed its Performance with a Purpose program to address issues surrounding clean water, nutrition and fitness, and sustainable agriculture in Ghana. These are just a few examples of ICV.
Not only do these efforts help the communities they serve, they are also mind-opening to the volunteers across the spectrum. Their experiences working with the poor, the hungry, the disabled, etc., be it at home or overseas, will put them in touch with the inherent compassion that lives within all of us.
According to Deirde White, President and CEO of CDC Development Solutions, “Most of the participants of these programs are leaders and future leaders of the world’s largest and most influential corporations. Having the ICV experience opens their eyes, minds and hearts in new ways and necessarily changes the type of leader they are or will become. Their first hand exposure to the opportunities, challenges and conditions of local communities will inform their actions as they move to become mentors and decision makers. And this is a good thing for the future of human well-being.”
Well this is all fine and dandy for Sunday school, but these are businesses we are talking about here. Their job is to make money. So how do these volunteer programs contribute to their bottom line?
Well, clearly there are a number of benefits to the company. These programs help to build brand awareness and affinity, while strengthening trust and loyalty among customers. They put a human face on the company, reinforcing the idea that the company is comprised of real people that just happen to be organized around a particular product or service. It’s almost like a singer coming down off the stage and into the audience as he or she continues to sing. By doing this companies become more approachable while enhancing their corporate image and reputation.
But it is really on the employee side where the benefits are most, well, meaningful. Employees that volunteer tend to experience greater job satisfaction, and improved morale. This, in turn, leads to a more positive attitude which constructively impacts job performance, teamwork and many of the other intangibles that make good companies better. As a result, the companies doing this see both improved employee retention and productivity.
Of course, the communities also benefit, though this may not be as automatic as it seems. Collaborations between companies and community organizations or NGO’s can have their own pitfalls. In an article entitled, “Companies are from Mars: Non-profits are from Venus,” David Warshaw points out that the two entities often have very different agendas and that it is important that both parties approach their shared endeavor with sensitivity and open minds.
[Image credit: TetterooMedia: Fickr Creative Commons]
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.