If corporate social responsibility (CSR) and community impact are on your company’s list of priorities for 2021 then it is worth considering employee volunteering. Effective employee volunteering programmes can help meet UN Sustainable Development Goals, support B-Corp certification efforts, as well as improve employee engagement and workplace wellbeing.
But, as we often say, these results won’t happen overnight, and implementing a successful employee volunteering programme takes time, care, and effort. It requires an element of culture change within an organisation, especially if the company has limited prior experience in the CSR area.
A quick Google search will bring up a mountain of advice on implementing culture change. Countless experts offer countless differing opinions and strategies, but at the base of it, they all agree that the key components of successful culture change are:
In the words of Simon Sinek – start with your ‘why’.
In order for employee volunteering to work well, you need to get your employees on board. And to get your employees on board, you need to communicate your ‘why’: the company’s aims, purpose, ambitions with employee volunteering.
But be careful: writing for the Harvard Business Review, Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule explain that:
‘In terms of organizational culture change, simply explaining the need for change won’t cut it. Creating a sense of urgency is helpful, but can be short-lived. To harness people’s full, lasting commitment, they must feel a deep desire, and even responsibility, to change.’
Sharing the story of why you are getting involved with employee volunteering is all well and good, but it needs to be backed up by deeper understanding and examples that bring it alive. At Social Good Connect, we offer a ‘Lunch and learn’ workshop to every business that joins as a member. The aim of these sessions is to get the whole team on the same page with employee volunteering, address any issues or hesitations people may have, and to hear feedback from the employees. It’s also a great opportunity to share the human impact of recent volunteering placements.
These workshop sessions are great for injecting a boost of inspiration and motivation into the team, but this alone is not enough to implement a culture of volunteering. In fact, studies have shown that even within a group of people who are motivated to act, only slightly more people actually follow through than don’t.
Ensure you don’t lose initial momentum by creating space to regularly talk about employee volunteering, share insights and advice, and celebrate positive feedback from recent volunteering projects. Sharing valuable content little and often is important to keep employee volunteering at the forefront of everyone’s minds and to create new habits necessary for culture change.
Another integral part of creating a culture of volunteering is employee ownership and participation. As Walker and Soule write: ‘culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.”’
Company culture may be dictated by managers in policy and leadership approaches, but it is lived and breathed by the employees who work there. Any organisation wanting to embed a culture of volunteering needs to involve their employees from the very beginning.
We recommend finding a social good champion within your organisation: a spokesperson for the team, and a driver of social responsibility actions. A social good champion should be comfortable speaking to their colleagues to gauge their feelings towards employee volunteering, listening and responding to their concerns, and regularly promoting or ‘championing’ social responsibility.
We have found that volunteer programmes which give employees autonomy over their own volunteering activities are better received than programmes which dictate to the team on the causes they can support. Every employee is a person with varying interests, skills, and experiences, and almost everyone has a cause which is especially close to their heart. Giving your team time to volunteer during work hours, and the freedom to gift this time to whichever cause they like, tells them that you see them as a whole person, and that you support their passions.
Finally, while successful culture change is more than a ‘top-down mandate’, it does require buy-in from all levels of management. If C-suite decision makers are not committed to promoting and supporting employee volunteering, your organisation will never succeed in embedding a culture of volunteering.
It’s also important that decision makers in senior positions are open to listening and learning from more junior staff. To create a positive and inclusive culture of giving, everyone needs to have a voice. An idea we’ve been inspired by recently is TED’s The Way We Work series video about ‘Reverse Mentorship’. Patrice Gordon speaks about reverse mentoring as a tool to bridge the ‘gap between leaders and their people with regard to their perspectives and experiences’ and an ‘antidote to tunnel vision’ for organisations who are at risk of stale thinking. She shares her experience as a reverse mentor to Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger just a year into her career.
The final puzzle piece are the systems that must be in place to turn the ‘culture of volunteering’ from a nice idea into an everyday reality. You may have communicated the importance of giving back in a beautifully empathetic manner, listened to and learned from your team’s feedback, and given plentiful opportunities for ownership and participation, but if you don’t provide a tangible next step, all that hard work will have been for nothing.
Feedback that we’ve received time and again from businesses who have previously invested in employee volunteering is: ‘we gave our staff time to volunteer but no one took it up’. When we dig deeper, what we often find is that these businesses have done the first two steps: they have communicated the need for employee volunteering, and given their team ownership to go out and find their own volunteering opportunity, but then they stop there.
What is missing is the next step, the systems in place to make employee volunteering easy to participate in. David Rock hits the nail on the head in this article for Forbes: ‘Habits must be easy to execute for them to stick… Likewise, organizations need to implement systems that support their desired habits.’.
Giving employees time to volunteer without pointing them to an easy way to find volunteering opportunities is like setting up a gym without buying any equipment – you’re only halfway there.
Joining a platform like Social Good Connect gives you the missing puzzle piece, and, when used alongside communication and participation, will set you up for success with employee volunteering.
To find out more about how Social Good Connect can help you tie these integral elements into a coherent community impact plan, and successfully embed a culture of volunteering in your organisation, enquire now or join our mailing list for updates!
Written by Betty Henderson