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Corporate volunteering: 3 steps to create social inclusion through transformative volunteerism

Angad Bachhar
March 1, 2023 - 6min
Corporate volunteering: 3 steps to create social inclusion through transformative volunteerism

Do you run a corporate volunteering program that struggles with employee participation? As your organization strives to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, are you looking for ways to make all members of your team feel included? 

Inclusion in the workplace is a sense of belonging among co-workers that leads to greater productivity, more innovation, and better decision-making throughout your organization. As your employees feel more connected to your brand’s purpose and to each other, business performance also improves. 

However, only half of respondents in an International Labour Organization survey said that diversity and inclusion were sufficiently identified and resourced in their workplaces’ culture and strategy, and only a third of enterprises said that they measured inclusion, even though doing so was essential for progress.

As you look to improve your social and business impact, a good way of fostering a sense of belonging and community is through transformative employee volunteering.

We spoke to Chris Jarvis, CEO and co-founder of Realized Worth and Executive Director of the RW Institute about what transformative volunteering is, why employee volunteering programs are ineffective, and how to increase social inclusion through transformative volunteering.

What is transformative volunteering?

Volunteering that results in you being more aware of the cause you’re supporting, taking more ownership over parts of your volunteering strategy, and your team sharing more knowledge are traits of transformative volunteering. Remember that the objective is to transcend differences in identity, and focus on commonalities. The more you do meaningful things with other people, the more you share values and a sort of a shared identity as people who are good pro-social people. This positive self-perception then translates into your employees’ behavior at the workplace.

Why are some employee volunteering programs ineffective?

Volunteering can be more impactful than companies expect. However, some companies view volunteering as a box they need to tick rather than a major driver of company culture. They see volunteering as a way of communicating that they are committed to investing in the community, while the actual benefit to the community is not prioritized. 

According to Jarvis, there are three reasons why companies fail to create transformative volunteering programs:

  • Appearances instead of action
    Jarvis says that many companies think about outcomes and benefits for the company as a result of an employee volunteering program only as it relates to how they appear to the public, in the form of either shareholders or stakeholders. This is one of many things they're doing to demonstrate that they are good citizens, good corporate citizens and that they care about communities.

    This is important to the employees who live in those communities, as well as other companies that operate there. However, the appearance of doing something is as far as they tend to think.

    Because of this, they tend to identify projects or investments that are unique, interesting, newsworthy, in line with their key competencies, and are of importance to both their employees and to customers. If community stakeholders are not consulted, your company may spend its resources on activities with low social impact.

  • Vanity metrics
    The activities of your volunteer program get translated into metrics focused on output, such as how many hours, how many dollars, how many people, how many places, how many walls you should paint.

    As Jarvis points out, these metrics don't speak to the value of your volunteering efforts to both your employees and the community, and make it difficult for you to achieve meaningful objectives. Giving the example of his home city of Baltimore, Jarvis says that you're not going to solve homelessness in a city like Baltimore by donating - it's just never going to happen. As a result of this approach, the best some companies can hope for is to simply look like they're doing something.

  • Tendency to take shortcuts
    Interestingly, Jarvis compares companies to people and says that big companies tend to act like people. They exhibit human desires, like wanting to achieve things, wanting to sell things, and wanting to make a profit. Once they get past these basic needs like in Maslow's hierarchy, they look to craft their own distinct identity.

    In their haste to get or show results, they can neglect working on long-term business sustainability. 

3 steps to increase social inclusion through transformative corporate volunteering

Jarvis says that you can create a more inclusive workplace through transformative corporate volunteering, but first you need to ensure your program is transformative. Here are his three steps to a transformative employee volunteering program:

1. Create a space that encourages transformation

How can a space be transformative? In the beginning, you should use a 15-minute brief to communicate and create proximity with the people, the community, and the issue that you're addressing. Outline what you're doing, what you're going to do, and why it matters.

Jarvis says that the "why it matters" is where you invite people to imagine what it would be like to be a person who struggles with mental illness and doesn't have a safe place to live in, for example. After framing it in that fashion, allow your people to take the first step and empathize about what it would be like to be in that situation.

Then, you need critical reflection, if there's no critical reflection or chance for rational discourse, like a back-and-forth about what you experienced or how it makes sense. As Jarvis explains it, If you can just do a volunteer activity and forget about it, your program is transactional instead of transformative.

On the other hand, if you have regular check-ins where the person running the event checks in with everybody, you’re on your way to designing a transformative space. Remember that this doesn't guarantee anybody's going to have a transformation. It just means the spaces. 

2. Set up indicators of change

Step number two is setting up some indicators that help you see if any change is happening. According to Chris Jarvis, a transformative approach leads to three changes:

  • Psychological change: How you perceive yourself. If you perceive yourself as more pro-social, more inclusive, and somebody who understands and cares about issues you may not have before, that's progress! 
  • Convictional change: This changes what you believe to be true if you can challenge your pre-existing beliefs. Jarvis talks about how he used to believe that homeless people are homeless because they're lazy. Now, he is not only better informed about issues, but he also believes differently, and that shows progress. 
  • Behavioral change: This is a change in your real-world actions. Do you volunteer more? Are you open to learning more? Do you now ask more questions? Do you read different news sources? You could take any kind of behavior, but Jarvis always suggests picking three behaviors that line up with what you want to achieve that could show that you're cheating. Jarvis says that he follows the psychological impact on behavioral changes, and tests for it. He recommends designing the space where it can happen and then designing the metrics to show you that it's happening. 

3. Design projects based on community needs

Jarvis says that to feel a true sense of belonging in the workplace, employees hope to see more inclusive teams, a more equitable workplace, and a more inclusive mindset. They want to be able to ask new questions and learn new things, such as the socio-environmental issues that may not directly affect themselves but could affect the community. 

Speak about social inclusion and volunteering projects if you're willing to do the hard work of providing meaningful volunteering experiences to do so. Jarvis suggests that you should detach yourself from preconceived ideas of what local communities need. Instead, you should start a dialogue with them to better understand their issues and challenges.

Once this sustained back and forth is established, you will be able to provide corporate volunteering experiences that aren't transactional and are transformative to both your employees and society.

Ensure social inclusion through a stellar volunteer experience

For your corporate volunteering program to be transformative, you need to use a tool such as Optimy that maximizes efficiency and provides a seamless volunteer experience, tearing down barriers to participation. Contact us to learn about how Optimy delivers a seamless experience for you and your employees, and how you can use Optimy to amplify your social and business impact.

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