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CSR and employee volunteering: the new frontier

15 December 2011

One of the most common challenges to the success of a corporate-charity partnership is engagement across every level of the organisation.

The solution? Re-energise the corporate partnership by offering multiple scale access points for employee engagement – be it an online quiz, a documentary film screening, a skilled volunteering opportunity or team volunteering day. This article will discuss key themes in a new frontier of CSR: individualism in community investment, and innovation inpartnership and engagement.

  • Self-interested altruism

The age-old, one way stream of donor to recipient is long gone. Companies want to see a high Return on Investment (ROI) of partnering with a charity, through increased employee engagement, boosted company culture, profitability and evidence of impact on the ground. It’s increasingly important to come prepared with a clear ROI for a partnership pitch – for the individual employee, the consumer and for the brand.

  • Crowd sourced partnerships

Corporate-charity partnerships are increasingly crowd sourced by the employees, rather than dictated from ‘the top’. Charities should be considering the lifetime value of inspiring skilled employees at world class companies. Offering an employee an engaging hook through a low commitment, one off ‘event’ or activity they can do from their desk will offer them a step on your volunteer ladder. Consider employee volunteers no differently from donors – companies and charities should allow employees, just as they would individual donors, the freedom to choose how they support a cause with their time, skills and money, and a choice and influence over the impact of this.  

  • Boosting brand and reputation through CSR

C&E’s Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer 2011 found that 92% percent of companies considered brand and reputation to be the key driver in developing a partnership with a charity. A ‘good’ corporate brand and reputation will directly impact on consumption patterns in today’s market of sustainable consumption, and increase an employee’s drive to work for a company doing good things  thus directly impacting the bottom line.   

  • Innovation in partnership and engagement

Less money available in both the private and voluntary sectors means companies must be more creative and charities more strategic with partnerships. It also means the corporate philanthropy market and access to core funds is increasingly competitive, and companies want to see a high ROI. How can charities ensure this?

  • Strategic volunteering

Strategic volunteering is a component of corporate volunteering directly aligned to business, actively developing core corporate goals and targets. According to C&E’s 2011 Barometer, 71% of businesses believed that offering skills and other non-cash resources would make much more of an impact on their charity partner's mission delivery than purely cash-based relationships.

  • CSR for HR

Firstly, companies are merging their HR strategic goals with CSR, to incorporate core corporate values, learning and development goals with ‘giving back’ to the community.  Secondly, there is much hype surrounding the HR benefits of a solid CSR policy within a company – from employee retention, to happiness, to being able to attract the best graduates Generation Y has to offer. Profit with purpose has never been such a phenomenon.

Tips for creative alliance: developing strategic volunteering programme

1, Appeal to the skills of the companies you work with. 

Meet their HR team to consider the learning and development goals, and how your nonprofit can become integrated. The easiest place to start is with the corporate values. Align your partnership pitch with the same idiosyncratic ideology the company uses!

2. Know your audience.

Many larger companies will offer a full brief as to the skill set and professional distribution across the organisation. Market your organisation and any volunteering activities directly into the hands of the employee skill set. Partnering with a large media firm? Consider setting a one-day volunteer challenge with teams of new graduates to create, develop and pitch a re-brand for your charity.

3. Consider the impact.

How can the time of one employee volunteer create a direct and important impact on your charity? A pitch for time and skills should be no different to a pitch for financial support – integrate your best campaign and fundraising skills into volunteer recruitment. Couple this with the desired impact and KPIs of the corporate partner and you will have a mutually beneficial, strategic volunteering programme that shows real impact while providing professional development for the employee.

4. Be a money-making matchmaker.

Charities are beginning to develop "products" to market to companies, which will generate financial/business return. Take the age old Employee Volunteering Day (EVD). This has long been a way for charities to attract time, skills and investment to their organisation, to carry out hands-on work while generating an extra slice of income through a per-head fee or suggested donation. Charities are now developing this concept beyond EVDs to anything from practical workshops, pop up business enterprises, ticketed events run by corporates – all of which can charge a per head fee, plus profits from whatever ‘product’ you create.

Felicity McLean

digital strategy & partnerships (consultant), Ashoka