How to Pilot an International Corporate Volunteering Program

Image of Microsoft Volunteers in Kenya
Microsoft volunteers supporting the Kenya Red Cross IT Department.

By Mark Horoszowski

As evidenced by the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of increased corporate involvement in global development initiatives. This year, you can also expect increased spending for leadership development by corporations that are striving to develop more globally-minded leaders, primarily through experiential learning opportunities.

In these two facts sit a wonderful match, which I wrote about in a previous article entitled Why Every Company Needs an International Corporate Volunteering Program: The world needs talented people to donate their expertise and corporations have skilled professionals that can grow as leaders by volunteering their skills.

While existing international corporate volunteering (ICV) programs, like Pfizer’s Global Health Fellows Program, IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, Intel’s Education Service Corp, SAP’s Social Sabbatical and Microsoft’s MySkills4Afrika Program are the most frequently cited, your company doesn’t need something as far-reaching or broad, at least to start with.

Here are seven tips to get a skills-based volunteering program started at your company:

1. Find a corporate initiative to support

ICV programs are proven to deliver recruiting, retention, engagement, and leadership development benefits to corporations. While your company likely cares about all of these, in order to sell this program internally, you’ll have the best chance if you can focus on a specific issue, and then articulate how an ICV program will deliver measurable progress against it.

A good example of this is how Microsoft’s MySkills4Afrika has aligned its program to help develop global leaders – a need articulated by the company’s executive team. In addition, it is responding to needs of its partners and customers by helping build world-class skills and increasing innovation and affordable technology access on the African continent.

This checklist provides some useful tips how to do this within your own company.

2. Recruit a sponsor

While it is possible for ICV programs to be designed and managed from a grassroots level, it helps to find a senior sponsor. Senior sponsors are not only critical for fiscal support, but they can also help with other necessary tasks, like:

  • Promoting the program internally
  • Partnering with HR for legal considerations and measurement
  • Connecting to and aligning with existing CSR initiatives
  • Engaging managers to support the program (or at least not block participation)

The words of an executive sponsor can go a long way, so work hard to find one that will go to bat for the program.

3. Design your program

While there are about 40 well-documented ICV programs, they vary greatly. As an example, IBM’s Global Service Corp, while massive in reach with 500 volunteers a year, is focused on engaging Director level employees in very strategic, system-level challenges, like this transportation project in Valparaiso, Chile, done in partnership with the local government. Other programs, like Microsoft’s MySkills4Afrika, are open to people of all levels and skills sets across the company and aim to support much smaller, in-the-field organizations including independent schools, nonprofits, and startups – like this program management training at an innovation HUB in Nairobi, Kenya.

Some programs are limited on time, ranging from two weeks to a year. Others are limited by level, where only senior level employees are accepted. Regardless of your company, you can design a program that fits any skill level, time period, and budget.

At MovingWorlds, we have found that for the price of sending someone to a conference, you can connect them to a once-in-lifetime development experience that benefits people, planet, and your company’s profits.

Use published case-studies and open-sourced resources to help get you started researching the feasibility of a program at your company.

4. Identify strategic industry partners

ICV programs are proven to positively impact employees who engage in them. But in order to ensure they create a positive and sustainable impact for the world, they must be built in partnership with organizations that can truly benefit from skilled volunteers. It is therefore essential that great care is taken to find implementation partners, like MovingWorlds, Pyxera Global and VSO, that can make sure that field organizations are identified that:

  1. Have legitimate, locally-led projects with identifiable social impact
  2. Have identified clearly scoped projects that pertain to specific skills sets
  3. Have been trained on best-practices for receiving skilled volunteers
  4. Agree to program participation requirements, including required planning, reporting, and follow-up
  5. Meet required corporate security standards, and in some cases, legal and/or financial independence issues
  6. Have a good chance of sustaining without ongoing support to ensure long-term impact

“Engage purposefully in the global pro bono relationship.  When you’re starting a new project, you’re striving for transformative outcomes for these participants and the local clients.  Working with an intermediary and / or strategic partners on the ground who understand the landscape – everything from identifying the right NGO with the capabilities and resources to host your volunteers to physically getting around in an unfamiliar environment and culture – is absolutely critical to creating a successful program that’s repeatable,” said Amanda MacArthur, VP of global pro bono and engagement for Pyxera Global

Here are eight factors to consider when finding matches for international, skills-based volunteers, as published on Devex as part of the #DoingMore campaign.

5. Make the pitch

Just like any other business initiative, you’ll have to compete for resources: financial, human, and time. Despite the overwhelmingly positive feedback of ICV programs, you’ll have to put on your sales hat and sell, sell, sell. Our free guide helps you align champions and gives you a compelling business case that you can easily customize for your own business, but you’ll still have to work hard to sell it internally. Here are some great pointers from Forbes to do just that.

“At the end of the day an internal pitch can only be effective if you truly understand what motivates your stakeholders. Ask yourself what do they want to achieve, and design a program that speaks to that. And don’t forget to gather support before you officially ask for support – get to that final meeting with most of the room already onboard,” said Carla Villoria, a Microsoft Leaders in Action program champion

Build a team and a business case to help sell the program internally.

6. Monitor impact

As shared in #1 above, it’s vital that your program is designed to accomplish key objectives. Establish success metrics from the very beginning and measure against them throughout the entire program. Common metrics for ICV programs include:

Program Operations: Customer and constituent satisfaction of the program process, messaging, and operations and should be measured, like: Quality of communication; Quality of training; Quality of program management.

Employee Learning and Development: Employee development is key to growth of the program. To capture that, try and monitor: Skills being acquired; Manager and peer recognition of new skills / behaviors; Long-term retention; Long-term engagement.

Manager / Executive Satisfaction: Maintain buy-in from managers and senior leaders by monitoring: Satisfaction with program operations and communication; Likelihood to recommend to other leaders; Satisfaction with exposure and related press.

Impact: Your ICV program should be solving an actual problem to develop and retain an effective field and implementation partnership. Metrics can include: Impact reports of beneficiaries; Challenges that were addressed; Skills acquired; Quality of volunteers and their work; Satisfaction scores of partners and constituents; Likelihood of partners to remain engaged.

As additional guidance for monitoring and measuring your ICV program, Luke Filose, program manager of Intel’s Education Service Corps, provided this advice:

“In the pilot stages of a program, there’s definitely an opportunity to establish systems for gathering data, surveying different stakeholders, and building frameworks that you can continue to apply to get useful data and compare over time. At the same time, be careful about over-investing at this stage in M&E for two reasons. First, you’re not exactly sure what kinds of impacts your program is going to have. And second, it’s time-consuming and resources may better be spent in other areas.

“However, one important thing to establish with any ICV project is who are your local partners, and what is their plan for sustainability and measuring impact. While statistically significant numbers might be challenging to acquire in the first few years, don’t underestimate the value of self-reported data for PR worthy stories and for building internal champions.

Capture data and stories from all stages of the program to be able to track long-term impact.

7. Promote the program (and its participants)

Once steps one to six are completed, make sure to capture powerful stories from the volunteers, field organizations, and beneficiaries. At the end of the day, your ICV program has the opportunity to build your business while improving and enriching the lives of people around the world. If you can show that, you can build the case to extend and grow the program.

According to Alexandra van der Ploeg, head of corporate social responsibility and global corporate affairs for SAP and leader of SAP’s Social Sabbatical program:

“The best way to get support and attention for pro-bono programs is to encourage program participants to communicate extensively about their experience. Of course your key stakeholders are interested in key facts and figures, but what really inspires them is to hear personal accounts from the participants themselves. So next to our corporate communication efforts, we strongly urge our SAP Social Sabbatical participants to write blogs, tweet and produce video diaries while they are on assignments, and once they are back we set up personal, informal meetings with key stakeholders. I regularly hear from executives who have attended such meetings that hearing the personal stories from the Social Sabbatical participants is one of the most inspiring and impressive meetings they have had in a long time!”

Create a formal and information storytelling platform to highlight the stories of your program.

Image of MySkills4Afrika with Kenya Red Cross
Microsoft volunteers meeting with leadership of Kenya Red Cross.

While there are lots of great providers that can help you bring an ICV program to life at your company, it will ultimately take the effort of an internal champion to get it off the ground – and that champion can be you if you follow these steps.

Done correctly, you can launch a program that creates a positive impact for your company, its employees, and our world. If you have more tips, let us know in the comments below, and connect with us @Experteering.

Image credits: Microsoft

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO at, a social enterprise addressing the global talent gap. Its matching site, support team, and training help people find the best place to volunteer their skills around the world — on their own, or through corporate-sponsored programs.

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