Notes from the Field #2/2015
What do 27 of the 30 biggest companies listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange have in common? They all make use of corporate volunteering to engage with social issues relevant to their businesses, motivate their employees and strategically position themselves as attractive employers. This issue of Beyond Philanthropy’s Notes from the Field shines a light on the trends and success factors in corporate volunteering, based on nine expert interviews with companies from the DAX, the EURO-STOXX 50 and other organisations conducted as part of a Master’s thesis.2 Successful corporate volunteering is a triple win situation.
When companies invest their employees’ time and knowledge in the pursuit of social and/ or environmental objective, the company, employees and society can benefit. In the most recent Deloitte Volunteer Impact Study, 88% of HR managers surveyed believed that corporate volunteering has a positive impact on their company’s reputation.
Furthermore, 62% said that employees have a more positive view of their company as a result.3 This conclusion was supported by the seven companies surveyed, which all acknowledged that the influence on their perception among current and future employees and in the local area was important. One software company, for example, uses corporate volunteering to boost its reputation in the local area by sending its employees to local charitable organisations.
The improvement in its perception in the region was soon confirmed by surveys conducted by a third party. The chance to encourage innovation also played a role with the companies surveyed. Deploying employees in the local area allowed them to better identify customer needs and market opportunities. One international telecommunications company expects, among other benefits, to discover new and emerging market trends.
The companies surveyed further agreed that their employees benefit most from the change of perspective, in that they have a chance to put their professional skills to work in other challenging areas.
This leads to an improved motivation and can make employees feel more connected to their company. As the results from our interviews and background research show, committed management, communication, a needs assessment, collaboration with intermediaries and a clear structure within the company are some of the most important factors for success.
To establish a successful corporate volunteering programme it is vital that both executives and management recognise the value of corporate volunteering and actively participate in its implementation.
All of the companies surveyed agreed that without the support of the executive level there could be no corporate volunteering programme at all, or that at best participation rates would be very low.
Communication is another vital factor in corporate volunteering, emphasised by all of the surveyed companies. It is important to make the distinction between external and internal communication. With regard to the latter, all of the companies reported maintaining regular communication about employees’ ongoing corporate volunteering projects. External communication, however, is only pursued to a limited extent, since companies are keen to avoid the perception of engaging in “whitewashing” among both employees and the public. Possible criticism of “whitewashing” can be further avoided when companies and partner organisations first analyse where the need for corporate volunteering lies, in order to make a meaningful contribution. Corporate volunteering adds real value when it addresses an existing social need that would not otherwise be met. Furthermore, corporate volunteering provides many people with their first exposure to social engagement, which is a very important yet greatly underemphasized consideration of corporate volunteering.
“We know from our work with charitable organisations that resources are often scarce. Additional support in the form of people’s time and business know-how is always welcome in the non-profit sector if it solves an existing problem and helps the organisation to fulfil its social mission,” says Claudia Leissner, Managing Director of Proboneo, a marketplace which connects people with charitable organisations looking for pro-bono support in legal matters, communication, strategy, IT or finance.
Also, the majority of companies surveyed recognise the benefits of working with intermediaries and have already made use of their expertise. Intermediaries can provide support to companies throughout the process, from developing an appropriate corporate volunteering programme and finding local partner organisations to implementation and evaluation. This can significantly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.
“For an ever-increasing number of German companies, corporate volunteering is a key component of a comprehensive CSR strategy that they couldn‘t imagine going without,” confirms Dr. Reinhard Lang, Managing Director of UPJ, a Germany-wide CSR network of responsible companies and regional intermediaries which helps businesses develop and implement corporate volunteering programmes and find suitable local partners. “Now it‘s a matter of taking that potential – both internally for the company, and for non-profits and their beneficiaries – and leveraging it.”