Most corporate leaders say they believe in the social and business value of employee volunteer programs (EVPs), but it'd be nice if there were some good evidence. After all, we're living in an increasingly bottom-line world, a time when boards want firms to cut every unnecessary cost and reap a return on every investment.
The good news is that a study commissioned by the Pioneers, a nonprofit volunteer network made up of telecommunications employees across the U.S. and Canada, indicates there's a genuine link between volunteerism programs and corporate performance. The Impact of Corporate Volunteerism study
, which analyzed responses from 450 survey participants, found that a significant correlation exists between high-performing companies and the presence and support of a formal employee volunteer program. Moreover, EVPs are more likely to be seen as an integral part of the internal culture of high-performing organizations, based on self-report data.
However, financial data that directly quantifies EVP activity on the corporate bottom line doesn't usually exist in companies because it's not being formally measured. And even when it is tracked, the data collection is usually done inconsistently and is not integrated into strategic decision-making. So even though organizations may say that volunteerism benefits the company, if EVP outcomes are not tracked, the ROI clearly cannot be demonstrated.
This is an issue that employers need to be concerned about because interest in corporate volunteerism is increasing, partly due to its growing significance to employees (46.1%) and support from senior management (28.4%). There are two areas where companies need to improve: Most don't have formal programs to support such initiatives - such as a volunteer coordinator - and those that do fail to allocate adequate resources to support the programs in most cases.
This isn't an awareness problem. Among organizations that don't track EVP activity or its outcomes, most say they are aware that they need to.
The study also found there's a great deal of change to employee volunteerism initiatives these days. Activities are moving away from the traditional internal fundraising campaigns or once-a-year big, splashy events that involve large teams going out into the community to work on a one-day project. Instead, more companies are aligning themselves with nonprofit groups, allowing employees to leverage their core competencies by offering ongoing mentoring and assistance to organizations that otherwise don't have the expertise or could not afford to contract for professional services in areas such as accounting or IT.
Employers say that these sorts of initiatives are good for the community and also good for employees. Volunteerism is often looked at as a leadership development tool as well as an opportunity to build morale, says Kevin Engholm of Citi, where the talent management function encourages high-potential leaders to become involved in volunteer opportunities such as board work early on.
"We've seen an erosion of a lot of what we can expect and was once taken for granted in terms of the idea of lifetime employment, or assured economic prosperity - I do think people are looking for more transcendence from the volunteer work than their day-to-day life gives them, and so the opportunity to be part of something meaningful is significant. Maybe we're no longer in the golden age of giving but moving into a golden age of volunteerism," said Engholm.
PCL Construction Enterprises is an example of an organization that has mastered the ability to demonstrate the actual value-added impact of volunteerism on an organization. Employees report and track their volunteer activities through an interactive software program. Moreover, PCL leadership promotes volunteerism, and the organization regularly conducts employee surveys to gauge the impact of volunteer initiatives internally as well as externally.
"We know that we've been awarded contracts in instances where we were not necessarily the lowest bidder, but we got the contract because the differentiator in our bid package was how proudly we spoke of our commitment to community service and support. We recently got a 100-plus million-dollar contract partly because of this - they said that was impressive and they felt it displayed to them the sort of integrity we had and that it matched their level of integrity, and that was an issue that came up in their deliberations, and that's part of why we got the job," said Denny Dahl, director of HR. i4cp's 4-Part Recommendation:
- Define the goals of your organization's EVP; determine if it is more social or business-focused and if it aligns with the overall strategy.
- Define metrics that are meaningful for your organization and develop electronic tracking to capture the EVP metrics.
- Once metrics are in place, establish baselines for benchmarking the impact of corporate employee volunteerism programs.
- Support employee volunteerism by providing the necessary leadership and the proper allocation of resources.