Most of our readers work in the field of Corporate Citizenship, CSR, Corporate Community Investment and Corporate Volunteering. The majority are directly responsible for their company’s employee volunteering programs.
In conversations with these readers, we’ve become aware of a significant increase in the number of large companies interested in either starting or expanding their employee volunteer programs.
We’re not imagining things…
Sure, examples of corporate volunteering have been around since the early 1900’s in the US. But now, almost one third of US corporations embrace some form of employee volunteering, representing a growth of almost 150% in the last few decades. These days, it is widely accepted that employee volunteering is a key component for the success of a company’s CSR and Corporate Citizenship strategies.
So…why the growth? Why this incredible interest in employee volunteering?
One perspective is the fact that employee volunteering is able to provide an effective strategy with which to address often negative or at best suspicious relationships that sometime exist between business and society. The potential of this strategy becomes even more profound given the backdrop of weakened nation states and globalized societies.
In addition to the relational benefits, there are also strong business benefits to be had. Corporate volunteering programs promise returns beyond traditional philanthropic activities; they add value to the recruitment potential, retention rates, training, development, loyalty and overall satisfaction of the company’s staff.
Check out our latest series on the Business Case for Employee Volunteering:
Since the ideas, theories and practices surrounding employee volunteering are relatively new, where to start when building an corporate volunteer program can be unclear. There are multiple questions to answer, each seemingly leading to even more questions:
- What is a best practice – and why?
- What are some good benchmarks when it comes to participation rates?
- What kind of risks are involved?
- How do other companies achieve widespread support and agreement around programatic elements?
- What kind of recognition and reward incentives work?
- How big of a budget will this require?
- Is it a good idea to connect workplace giving programs with volunteering?
- How should nonprofit’s be vetted and then partnerships formed?
- What is appropriate when it comes to promoting the program inside and outside of the company?
- What kind of metrics can or should be collected and for what purpose?
Consequently, many companies are looking to consulting firms for help – and even that task becomes daunting as they try to determine what kind of kind of help to ask for and where to look.
You can peruse this blog to find some guidance in this area, but in case you’re still feeling unclear, we’ve complied a short list outlining what kind of help you should expect from consulting firms when it comes to employee volunteering.
1. Intelligence (Duh.)
Research is an important aspect in the development of any theory or practice. Employee volunteering is new enough that there are relatively few voices contributing to research which means there is quite a bit of work to be done in the field. It also means that any consultant worth their salt is active in either researching and/or writing on the topic.
There is a wide range in the type of work that reveal the “smarts” of your consultant. First, your consultant should be making concerted efforts to keep his/her finger on the international pulse of corporate social responsibility. It may look different from one consultant to one another, but one way we chose to do this was by conducting a major survey of 150 companies in Canada, USA, and the UK. (Watch for its release soon.)
Second, contributions to academic research will show that your consultant’s perspective has been tested and proves relevant. A great example of this kind of research is The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship report Mapping Success in Employee Volunteering: The Drivers of Effectiven…e, authored by Bea Bocolandro.
Writing a book on the topic is, of course, a great indicator that the consultant is informed on the topic. Elaine Cohen did this with her new book, CSR for HR. Two other great ones on slightly broader topics are Joe Waters’ Cause Marketing for Dummies and Jason Saul’s The End of Fundraising.
Hiring a consultant who knows how to consult is not the same thing as hiring a consultant who knows the field for which they are consulting. Both are obviously important, but actual experience with volunteering and designing successful approaches is essential. Often we find large consulting firms offering expertise in the area of employee volunteering – who really haven’t figured out how to do it for themselves. Since employee volunteering is growing so quickly it seems every type of consulting agency is being asked to provide services. PR firms, marketing agencies, engineering firms, financial firms, you name it – if they are consulting on some related aspect of CSR, they are being asked to help out with employee engagement and employee volunteering programs.
Some of these firms have the expertise to help you research, design and implement a good volunteering program. Most do not.
One way to determine if your consulting firm has the experience you need is to ask how many of their consultants have been employed with nonprofits. This is usually a good indicator of their ability to appreciate the subtleties of not only partnership with nonprofits, but of the volunteering experience itself.
Another indicator is whether the consultant (or their firm) has appropriate experience is by whether or not they provide training, seminars and education specific to volunteering and employee engagement in volunteer activities. This can take many forms of course, but typically the more a consultant is asked to speak on the topic of volunteering, the more depth of experience they are offering their audiences.
A competent consultant will be able to bring together all of that knowledge, experience and skill to provide a client with the required help. Expecting a consultant to be competent feels like a no-brainer, but consultants will have varying degrees of competency based on the type of work required.
For example, when starting a new employee volunteer program, many companies are merely looking to plan and execute a successful half-day employee volunteering event. If that’s what you need help with, you actually have quite a few options, such as:
- The Hands On Network – USA
- Canadian Business for Social Responsibility
- Volunteer Match – large network of nonprofits in the USA
- Volunteering Australia – online guides
- Business in the Community – ‘turn-key’ programs in the UK
- Community Business – practical help and training in Hong Kong
- Hungarian InterChurch Aid
- Volunteer Canada
If you want a consulting organization with competencies specific to skills-based volunteering you can check out these organizations:
Another indicator of competence is in how a consultant responds to your hiring inquiry. If they are well-informed about the field, they will understand that not all companies want the same thing when it comes to employee volunteering. They will ask you about your company, your CSR history, and your long-term goals. Essentially, a competent consultant will assess you as much as you’re assessing them. You may or may not be a good fit as a client and they will not want to take on someone that’s not right for them.
We use the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship matrix when figuring out whether or not a client is a good fit. You can watch this video for our description of the 5 Stages of Corporate Citizenship. Basically, if the company is Stage 3 or higher, it might be a great fit. Otherwise, we recommend looking for a consultant with competencies specific to planning corporate volunteering events that will provide a strong foundation while yielding good PR elements.
If you are looking for some help designing and implementing a quality employee volunteer program, here is a short list of consultants that we can vouch for as more than competent:
USA: Bea Boccalandro is a Boston College Center instructor and is president of VeraWorks, a global consulting firm that helps companies with their community involvement. She has helped Aetna, Bank of America, Levi Strauss & Company, The Walt Disney Company and others develop and enhance their community involvement through research, strategy design, program development and evaluation.
Canada: Peggie Pelosi, Founder and CEO of Orenda. Peggie has spent her career inspiring international business leaders through her speaking, coaching and writing—all based on 20 years of personal sales success. Her greatest inspiration, however, has come from corporate philanthropy—a means for companies to move forward by giving back.
Brazil: Mónica Galiano, Senior Researcher at Global Corporate Volunteer Council (GCVC) and the President of Iniciativa Brazil. Monica recently helped produced the report “Global Companies Volunteering Globally” by the GCVC of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE).
USA: The good folks at the Entrepreneurs Foundation. EF is able to provide help to companies that may be lacking resources to build employee volunteer programs. They offer comprehensive approach for building corporate philanthropy and community involvement programs.
Drop us a line
Our own work at Realized Worth is focused on designing and implementing ongoing employee volunteer programs. We work with clients toward a sustainable approach that uses the leadership and influence of the employees instead of relying on staff alone. If you’re interested, you can read more here or give us a call. We’re happy to discuss your consulting needs and help direct you to the help that’s appropriate for you.