· 2 min read · Features

Making corporate volunteering relevant to global businesses


Volunteering no longer needs to be a 'nice to do' afterthought in business

When you say corporate volunteering to the average HR manager, most will immediately bring their company’s one day volunteering policy to mind. A policy that will encompass a broad range of community-based activities from team days clearing woodlands to lunchtimes spent teaching vulnerable children to read. All are worthy, but not necessarily business critical nor always likely to engage the company’s high performers.

An increasing number of companies, however, are starting to see a value in co-designing programmes that share skills with the voluntary sector. These programmes actively tap into top talent, are firmly rooted at the core of business and generate measurable outcomes on key social issues, like global poverty. One example of this is sending employees overseas to work in relevant emerging markets.

Exposing employees to accelerated learning

Exposing employees directly to business problems further down their supply chains has a number of business benefits. Working in an unfamiliar and challenging environment will push even your most experienced managers giving them an accelerated learning opportunity that is unavailable in any classroom setting.

If managed within a well-designed wider programme, it could also lead to a new generation of business ideas targeted specifically at emerging markets – a fact that has not been lost on IBM who run the world’s biggest international pro-bono programme for staff.

Taking employees and placing them directly into international development programmes might seem a million miles away from your traditional team challenge type activity. But, it will only be through innovations like this that corporate volunteering remains relevant to global business, and generates quantifiable returns on investment.

Metrics for success

Such returns will need to be measured on a wider set of value metrics than your average volunteer programme. It’s not just about how many employees you send out, but what they achieve when they volunteer, and how much value they can then add through this experience when they return to your business.

A supply chain manager at the agri-chemical company Syngenta, who recently volunteered through Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO), told me how different it was to experience first-hand as a volunteer what life is like for a smallholder farmer in Bangladesh than simply reading about it. This understanding will now be invaluable to him in his day-to-day work for a company that relies on its network of small-scale farmers in countries like Bangladesh.

The results of the collaboration between VSO and Syngenta are extremely exciting for all concerned: the senior stakeholders given the opportunity to stretch their leadership skills on the project; Syngenta as a company and the farming communities that VSO support.

Five top tips for creating a value-add programme

To transform a volunteering programme into something that really counts for all stakeholders, ensure that it is:

  • truly led by the needs of your charity partners;
  • adding long-term value or able to continue sustainably beyond your support;
  • aligned with your core business priorities, including organisational learning and development frameworks;
  • targeted at employees who have the potential to use the opportunity to add value to you and your charity partners; and
  • measured not only by what you put into it, but what both you and your charity partners get out of it in quantifiable and qualitative benefits

Ashleena Deike is an operations manager in VSO's Knowledge Exchange

If you’d like to find out more about how to develop an international volunteering programme VSO will be hosting a Google Hangout on the topic from 1-2PM on 12 November