Now! for Corporate Volunteering…

I’ve been reflecting on my many recent conversations with people responsible for international corporate volunteering programmes. They’re all excited about the fact that their people are returning to in-person corporate volunteer assignments. They’re also mindful of their experiences over the last couple of not-so-normal years where a pandemic, the impact of climate change and wars – both close to home and far away – have resulted in employees seeking new and meaningful ways to make their difference in the world.

So, what am I observing? If I link the conversations together, several similar themes are emerging:

1. There’s a desire to scale what’s working and find ways to deepen engagement in parts of the business where there is an opportunity for more corporate volunteering to take place

Many companies are telling us that more people than ever are asking for ways to make an impact in their local communities and on issues that face communities far from home. The requests are varied, from teams that want to work as a group on a one-off experience, to individuals that want to be paired with social purpose organisations that need their specific skills and support in a more extended way. On top of that, there are many conflicting needs; Millennials and Gen Zs have different expectations from other colleagues. For some companies it’s about demonstrating to stakeholders that corporate volunteering is a central way of delivering their commitments to society and about meeting the targets that have been set as indicators of progress. For others, it’s about finding ways to adapt their approaches to the different needs present across their operation. But doing more and doing it better is certainly on the table.

2. Finding the right partners is critical to the success of any corporate volunteering approach

And that’s harder in some parts of the world. Across the world, the vast majority of volunteering is still informal with people neither volunteering via their workplace or through organisations. Despite enormous growth in corporate volunteering, there are still some regions where volunteering is less part of the fabric of society, and so different approaches are needed to offer a company-wide corporate volunteering programme. Some companies with global flagship partnerships are able to leverage relationships in the different countries where they operate, but for others where a more localised approached is preferred, the country teams often tell us that it’s difficult to find partners that understand the value of skills-based volunteering or have experience with working with corporate volunteers.

3. International Corporate Volunteering Managers value the opportunity to share their experience with each other

Within their own companies, Volunteering Managers have pretty unique roles and there are only so many conferences and webinars that one can attend where good practice is showcased. However, what I’ve heard time and again is that getting underneath the surface of the stories and comparing and contrasting the different company approaches with their peers – and in some cases collaborating on projects – is super helpful. It helps to ensure continuous improvement and can unblock those stubborn obstacles that get in the way of progress.

4. Virtual programmes will become part of the rich tapestry of employee volunteering offers going forward.

Over the last couple of years, people who might have never put themselves forward for international assignments have been able to participate with virtual volunteering as an enabler. During the pandemic, companies pivoted their programmes to a virtual setting and were able to continue to support existing partners to build relationships and support new partners. Be it close to home or far away, the cost to leverage employees’ skills and passion to support causes on the other side of the world reduced in a virtual programme – providing a flexibility often not possible with in-person programmes. And so, despite the hunger to return to in-person volunteering and the fact that the effectiveness and impact may be different between the two approaches; virtual will remain part of the employee volunteering portfolio.

Earlier this year, we shared the results of the Emerging World Corporate International Service Learning (CISL) Resilience Study and for the first time we were able to compare and contrast the different impacts of virtual and in-person CISL programmes. An example of this can be seen in the chart below that looks at participants that strongly agreed to the questions about resilience behaviours alongside whether they completed their assignment face to face (In-person), in a blended face to face and virtual approach (Hybrid) or in a 100% virtual setting.

How you design for a virtual setting and how to support the programme to help build the contextual understanding between participants and partners can make a big difference in the outcomes and impact. We know that while virtual programmes are less complex to facilitate and generally less expensive, they do need a different type of intermediation and support.

And so, in the second half of 2022, we are planning a new cross-company research study to learn more about how to maximise the benefits of virtual international corporate volunteering programmes. If you are interested in learning more about the Study or in discussing anything international corporate volunteering related with us, let’s chat.

Amanda Bowman
Client Development Director

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