Blogs & Comment

A Better Model for Employee Volunteerism

One of the biggest challenges for executives today is how to effectively and appropriately support their employees’ interest in volunteering for non-profit organizations. On the one hand, there’s a strong business case for employee volunteerism (i.e. better recruitment and retention, lower training cost, more loyal employees, and higher productivity). On the other hand, corporations are leaner than ever, expectations of employees are at an all time high, and time is at a real premium. As a result, even corporations who understand the business value of community investment may not have effectively addressed this aspect of their community investment programs.
I thought it would be helpful to share a best practice for volunteerism that has been developed by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundationcalled the Volunteer Continuum. The Continuum was created in collaboration with stakeholders in the charitable sector and PwCs leadership team to act as a decision making framework to help guide the firms community initiatives. I spoke with James Temple Foundation Manager, at the PwC Canada Foundation about the growing importance of volunteerism and the Volunteer Continuum that the Foundation has developed.

What are the ideal conditions in which volunteerism can flourish in a corporation?For volunteerism to flourish, it takes commitment from leadership, an engaged staff and a well-designed community program. As result of strong support from our most senior leaders and their passion for wanting to help our employees get involved with their community, the PwC Foundationhas experienced an almost 20% increase in employee volunteer participation over the last six years and our Foundation has become an important component of our firms DNA and something our people see as a point of pride within our firm.

How should employers best balance the interest of employees to participate in volunteer initiatives with the new reality of more lean workplaces, greater accountability, and less time?Employers have to listen to their staff and design volunteer initiatives that meet their wants and needs. What were finding at PwC is that our people place a lot of importance on having time to give back to their community, so we offer one paid day off each year for team volunteering events. For those who wish to give back outside of work hours, we also support them with $300 volunteer grants to their charity where they volunteer. Every staff member chooses to volunteer differently, so its our job to provide them with the flexibility to do so. This is also an example of where our Volunteer Continuum comes in handy. Using this tool, we can design programs that best accommodate our people and create the biggest impact in the community.
What was the context at PwC specifically that led to the creation of the Volunteer Continuum?Our objective in creating the Volunteer Continuum was to design a document that would help guide our firm in helping to develop a strong suite of programs that would enable our people to volunteer in ways they are passionate about. Our people were asking for a conduit to help share their passion about charity work and a way to tell others about their community story. Our Foundation is helping to inspire others to get involved, while our Volunteer Continuum has provided our Foundation Team with a framework to keep our strategy focused and a methodology to develop and measure our success.
How will success be measured at PwC?At the PwC Foundation, we measure success in two ways: the engagement of our people and the impact our people make within the community. Since 2004, we have collected hundreds of stories and testimonials from our charitable partners outlining how our approach is making a tangible difference. The data we have collected suggests that are linkages between our support for professional development activities within the charitable sector and the resulting impacts these new leaders have achieved within their own organizations. Our Foundation has helped our people increase their overall engagement rate in Foundation activities from 26% to 45% while maintaining an employee volunteer satisfaction rating (excellent or exceptional experience) of 95%.

To what degree can the volunteer continuum be applied to other businesses?The Continuum can be re-purposed by any individual or organization to assist with looking at the relationship between personal or business development and community program design and impact. At PwC, it helps to ensure anyone involved in the Foundations activities is participating in an experience that is sustainable and strategic, highlighting how someone can move from being a novice philanthropist who has simple program awareness to a strategic philanthropist who is using their skills, expertise and resources in new and innovative ways.

For corporations without a structured volunteer program, what advice can you give them on how to get a program started?

1. Develop a strategy by listening to your people and the interests of your key stakeholder groups: Create a plan that highlights how youll balance the philanthropic, strategic and commercial interests of the organization, its people and the not-for-profit sector. Most importantly, decide how youll measure success.
2. Get buy-in from your senior leadership: Time and time again, it has been shown that the endorsement and support from senior leadership is paramount in getting a volunteer program off the ground. The door opens to highlight how your plan (in step one) could be tied to the business strategy and why having your leadership spend time talking about and participating in the program is worth every penny.
3. Become a story teller:Just as important as measuring your success is communicating your impacts and telling your story in a way that inspires others. Everyone wants to hear about something good thats happening in their community and it helps to leverage everyone involved: recognizing your volunteers, showcasing the community impact, and reinforcing the positive attributes about your brand.