The power of corporate volunteering
In the past years, corporate volunteering has proven to be an excellent tool to increase work productivity and a way to create a better work environment. Businesses that have implemented volunteering programs have also seen a significant impact when it comes to recruiting and retaining their employees, not to mention an improvement in teamwork.
But when implementing employee engagement projects, some CSR professionals might come across many challenges to make such experiences transformative, and not only transactional.
And to get the most remarkable insights on the best practices on employee engagement, we talked to a real expert in the field. Caroline Modave has been for years working as an HR Executive. She also has some personal experience with corporate volunteering. During the interview for our podcast CSR Connect, Caroline shared some ideas on how to measure employee engagement, both internally and externally; how to make sure your middle management stays engaged with corporate volunteering activities; and how volunteerism can be used as a mechanism for employees branding. Check below the main topics discussed during the interview and improve your corporate volunteering program.
Tell us about your experience with employee engagement and with volunteering.
Caroline Modave: I started my career about 20 years ago. My background is economics. I’ve always been about people, about teams, about the organization. And therefore, very naturally, I started my career in human resources. I thought this is the place where I need to go. Let’s say to fulfill my passion. I worked for eight years at Accenture, did different roles in nature. After eight years, I joined GSK, a big pharma company, I did a lot of different H.R. roles over there as well. Mainly focused on teams, the end on large project transformations, change management, and leadership development. I had a great opportunity during my employment here because GSK also spent seven months with UNICEF and volunteered as part of an internal volunteering program. And last year, I gave my resignation at GSK to start as a consultant in an organization I founded with a former colleague of my company. We are a company, an organization in transformation. With the human side in my head then and doing the work around people and teams.
CSR professionals and HR managers are very often mere facilitators of volunteering experiences, but the true transformation needs to come internally, from the engagement of employees and managers. Getting such internal support can be a complicated first step.
Caroline Modave: It probably depends a little bit on where the organization is in terms of how much they value employees volunteering today, what they can take out of it and how they link it to their own vision. That’s a strategy, but also the work they are doing. And what is the added value that you have as an organization? So you really need to be able to support and sponsor employee volunteering in an organization? That’s probably the first step to understand how it would be received by the business today? Where are we on our journey, and what are the challenges we face in implementing employee volunteering? I think the key ingredients indeed start with first thinking: What is your organization standing for? What type of activity will they do? What is its purpose? And how much can you link employee volunteering to that? That specific purpose as an organization to really get the traction at the senior leadership level to get their sponsorship, but also for people to really understand what the impact is I can have within the organization, but also by doing volunteering linked with maybe the skills and the work that I’m doing on a day to day basis with my organization.
Many experts believe that relying on employee leadership and highlighting each person’s strengths can be a way to guarantee a sustainable and growth-oriented path for the future of your company’s employee engagement initiatives. Furthermore, corporations should see corporate volunteering not only as a way to give back to society but also as a way to develop their own staff.
Caroline Modave: Indeed, I do believe that the awareness of how volunteering can help your own organization is not yet. What can employee volunteering bring to your organization? You get happy employees who feel like they can have an impact on the world. You get employees back who have potentially also opened up their minds and seen other things in other organization types and build new skills. If you improve your volunteering, you’re not in a stand-alone mode, but you send teams to work together for a specific organization. There you actually build a relationship in your teams, and it’s a way to develop and strengthen your own organization’s relationships. The case for change there and building that awareness comes through stories. It comes to people coming back from these experiences. That is based on what they’ve learned, how passionate they are about the work they’ve been doing, and how much it brings to them. And this is how it will inspire other people to join, do the same, or implement it in their own department. So it’s probably a combination of both making sure at some point in time there is indeed the senior leadership and aligning it to the purpose of your organization. See where you can have synergies around what you deliver to the Web and, at the same time, tapping into the energy of the people who did it and who can bring this back to the organization.
And this synergy can benefit even small companies. Some specialists argue that smaller groups have a better dynamic in which change and transformation thrive. The key is to make sure this group shares the same interests. And for that to happen, the middle management has to be included in the corporate volunteering implementation process.
Caroline Modave: I do believe that the way you will engage your management is by really understanding those managers’ situation. And what are really the challenges that they experience as managers to let go of some of their employees so they can do volunteering projects. You need to definitely shape those managers and the people’s context and make it easy to do these sorts of volunteering experiences. So there are different ways actually to do volunteering. You can do skills-based volunteering like one or two hours a month; you can do full time volunteering a full day or several days a month. At some point in time, I did this type of volunteering. I was completely out of your organization for a number of months to make it easy for a manager in these different situations. You have different ways to help them let go of some of their employees for a specific reason. For instance, rotate people within the team, shift some work to other people within the team, and create that space. But for many of those managers, it also comes to permitting them to be the leaders who give this freedom to people to do some volunteering work. Of course, all of these in a framework with some guidelines and tools. Of course, you’re in a company with an objective and KPI is to be delivered. But there’s definitely a mindset shift that needs to happen that you can get something in return. And it’s not only permitted, but you should sometimes encourage your people also to step out of their comfort zone because you’ll get more out of it. So it requires a certain dialog within the organization. You could also think of making volunteering, let’s say, an action as part of an individual development plan. On a yearly basis, you know, employees have conversations with a manager where they talk about “where I see myself in the future?” What skills do I need to build to get there?” And potentially, volunteering work can bring those capabilities and those skills. Therefore, managers need to see volunteering as an investment; thus, time needs to be created for it.
Caroline Modave: So measuring the impact goes in two buckets. One is the impact you have on society and the nonprofit organization you’re sending your employee. And the other is the impact you have on your own organization by doing that. What is critical is making sure that there’s an alignment between the sending and receiving organizations. What is it that the employee volunteer is going to do? And what can we expect from this person and whether we want to see as a result of it? This conversation absolutely needs to happen to make sure that the employee feels fully supported and knows what is expected from them. And based on that, you can actually draw some, let’s say, performance indicators or measure the impact that the person will have as a volunteer, both at the end or during the volunteering project. You should also look into the impact on your own organization as a sending organization. Again, it depends on how you position your employee volunteering program and what you are trying to achieve with it. If it’s the level of engagement of your employees or feeling committed to the organization, retaining your key talents, and so on. You can use those classic indicators by reaching out to people who have been acting as volunteers, and see whether you see a difference with those who haven’t been volunteering. Suppose your program is positioned to build your skills and capabilities. In that case, I think the best way is probably to measure it through the management line and see with the management before looking at this person before and after the mission. Have you seen a difference in terms of how they show up? How did they deploy their capabilities? And does that have an impact on the work they are doing? So I would say there’s a number of elements you can look at. Again, it all depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your volunteering program.
When doing volunteering work we have to remember that both employees and local communities are bringing something to the table. Everyone can contribute to something, whether it is new insights, skills, content, or connections. And even those people who are seasoned professionals in the corporate world might have one or two things to learn from non-profits.
Caroline Modave: So, most of the time, corporate environments are quite regulated. There’s a number of guidelines, rules, and so on. And then you get into a world where there is much more informality and ways of working out or a little bit different. So in terms of learning, volunteering helps you shift from one type of environment to another one. That allows you to scan the context in which you are and adapt yourself. So there’s a lot of humility that is needed when you do volunteering work. You’re not the person who knows everything, and you come with all the solutions. No, you’re there to listen, understand the challenges, and adapt your style to have the most impact. So that’s probably one of the biggest learning that you can have as a volunteer. My second learning is that there are so many similarities between the corporate world and the nonprofits. Some dynamics are quite the same. And I think both worlds can be inspired. One from the other, definitely. I was also very much inspired by the values living within the nonprofit sector and how those values are driving engagement and energy. And this can be brought back to the corporate world so far. But the biggest learning is learning to listen, understand, and adapt yourself to a new context.
This, of course, is a huge benefit of employee engagement projects. But Caroline points out that we should not underestimate the PR power of such projects.
Caroline Modave: A number of actions support your employee value proposition and your employee branding. And one of those actions can be employee volunteering. It gives a sense of what type of organization you are and how you treat your employees, how you want to develop them, and how you invest in them. And definitely, people who go on volunteering programs and see this as a success and as a gift from their organization. They talk about it, and they do not only talk about it to their colleagues, but they also talk about it outside the organization. You shouldn’t underestimate the impact it has on employee branding and reputation.
You can listen to the full podcast episode here.