Emerging Trends in Corporate Volunteering

In February 2016, users of Benevity‘s SaaS tool gathered in San Diego to discuss the future of corporate philanthropy. TriplePundit was a media partner of the event. You can follow our coverage here.

Janelle Saunders (R) and Christa Denton (L), discuss employee volunteerism.
Janelle Saunders (right) and Christa Denton (left), discuss employee volunteerism.

On Feb. 24-26, users of Benevity‘s industry-leading employee engagement SaaS tool — which makes corporate philanthropy efforts like giving, volunteering, matching and grant making as easy as a few clicks — gathered in San Diego to discuss the future of corporate ‘Goodness.’

On Thursday afternoon, Janelle Saunders, director of employee engagement solutions for Benevity, shared emerging trends the firm is tracking in the corporate volunteering space. With 80 percent of companies offering volunteer programs to employees last year (up from 18 percent in 2011), what’s new in corporate volunteerism? Read on.

International volunteering is growing

While multinationals tend to enter the volunteerism space by offering a program at their headquarters, a growing number are beginning to expand these programs to all employees, Saunders said.

Last year, 58 percent of companies reported having at least one program available to their international employees, and 77 percent allow non-headquarter employees to participate in their programs.

“We are living in a borderless world,” Saunders said. “More and more folks want to be able to get engaged in the ways that mean something to them, and that might mean international volunteer opportunities, taking a service project, doing voluntourism. And clearly with more and more companies offering international options, the internationalization is really growing in this space.”

Integrate giving of time, money and product into a single (easy-to-use) tool

Benevity spoke to the power of bringing together giving and volunteering, saying that integrating programs is more powerful than doing one or the other.

People who volunteer time also tend to give more money (and vice versa). According to Benevity data, when companies have an integrated employee giving and volunteering program, the average participant will donate 41 percent more money. This shows that the more engaged people feel with causes that matter to them, the more likely they are to open their wallet, increasing the impact of a company’s giving program. Adding volunteer rewards as part of the program only improves that picture – and it’s critical to have technology that can seamlessly deliver all of these aspects.

At the core, giving and volunteering are stronger together, with an integrated program yielding better outcomes when it comes to boosting program participation.

Less restrictive Dollars for Doers programs boost engagement

Dollars for Doers programs award cash or other rewards to an employee’s chosen nonprofit based on the number of hours that employee spends engaging with the charity, usually through volunteering or sitting on a board.

The prevalence of such programs increased in 2015, although only slightly — rising to 5 percent of companies compared to 3 percent the year before. Among Benevity clients in particular, the numbers get much better: Nearly half, 47 percent, of Benevity’s clients now offer a Dollar for Doers program, Saunders said. They are also among the best performing programs in the world.

But that’s not all. “What we’re seeing is more and more companies are getting more creative with their Dollars for Doers programs,” Saunders explained. “They’re making them more inclusive; there are less restrictions on the minimum hours that somebody can do; and companies are [giving] hourly volunteer rewards as well.”

By making it easier for employees to participate in such programs, companies see greater engagement not only from employees, but also from nonprofit partners — which can be huge allies for firms looking to raise the profile of their Dollars for Doers programs, Saunders said.

“I think with creative approaches around Dollars for Doers — employees becoming more engaged, companies having less restrictions around rewards and eligibility — we’re going to continue to see this rate go up.”

Think more expansively about skills-based and pro bono volunteering

Fifty-one percent of companies provided pro bono service in 2014. That’s a 40 percent increase since 2012, giving skills-based and pro bono programs “the highest growth rates of any other volunteering programs that are out there right now,” Saunders said.

If you’re considering a skills-based or pro bono volunteering program at your company, the best way to increase engagement is to think outside the box, Saunders advised.

“Skills-based volunteerism is changing in that it’s not necessarily the traditional skills that you’re using in your day-to-day role, but recognizing the employees within your company have a variety of skills that they can lend to charitable organizations,” she explained. “We are hearing and we’re seeing companies really trying to overlay what people are doing in the community, the skills that they might be developing and their core competencies within their company. It’s truly a win, win, win!”

Foster communication with community partners to demonstrate impact

To turn an employee volunteer opportunity from a pleasant distraction into a life-changing experience, Saunders said it’s important to give your team the opportunity to reflect on the impact of their work. They may not initially realize how a cleanup project can help a nonprofit do its work better, or how painting a mural can make a sick child smile, but Saunders has a couple suggestions to deepen the experience: giving employees the opportunity to talk with the staff members of your nonprofit partners to learn more about the impact of their work or encouraging them to bring colleagues, friends and even family members along to corporate volunteering days.

“Being able to reflect on the impact of their work, even if it’s something that’s very, very traditional and general volunteering, can still be quite a transformational opportunity for your employees,” Saunders said.

Measure for the long-term

“What we’re seeing is that metrics and measurement are now moving to be more focused on the long-term,” Saunders said.

“We’re less likely to be able to quantify deep and meaningful impact in one year. We all have to do a CSR report on an annual basis, but actually being able to say how we’re changing lives and having long-term impact is not necessarily something that we can track on an annual basis.”

Benevity noticed that, in order to fill in this gap, more companies are setting lofty, long-term goals for their volunteer programs — and tracking their progress toward these goals in annual reports, rather than claiming to know everything about a program’s impact in its first year, Saunders said.

The bottom line? More and more companies are realizing that volunteering produces engagement — and engagement produces higher performance.

See more about how Benevity helps engage employees in volunteerism.

Image credit: Edison Miclat for Benevity 

Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist with a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian with an interest in climate resilience, clean tech and social justice. You can contact her at mary@triplepundit.com.