Full disclosure, I used to work for The Boston Consulting Group in their Innovation, Marketing and Communications group.
“The key is to create a varied, equal-opportunity program that appeals to the diverse skills, interests, and availability of all employees at all levels of the organization.” – Brenda Thickett, BCG
Recently, the Boston Consulting Group released the publication “Designing Corporate Volunteer Programs to Create Value” to advise companies on how to build more value – for the company, employees, nonprofits and the community – out of employee engagement initiatives. The report identifies four factors to consider when designing a meaningful volunteer program.
Set a clear mission and goals
In order to be sustainable and relevant to a broad base of employees, a volunteer program must work to achieve established objectives, whether they are goals of participation, social impact results, how resources are implemented, or all of the above. Weaving success metrics and tracking into the program design, ensures that you can optimize it for the long-term and evaluate what’s working and what can be improved.
Choose the right nonprofit partners
This step may be done in concert with the goal setting step above, especially if your company envisions building a long-term deeper partnership with one or a few nonprofits. Nonprofits are not always set up operationally to track results in the way companies are used to doing, so it may be helpful to work with nonprofit partners to figure out what can be tracked and how results can be communicated among partners. Regardless of whether you involve nonprofit partners in the goal setting process, it is paramount to select the right nonprofit partners. Factors to consider include: mission/brand alignment, mutual understanding of expectations and resource allocation, match of employee skill set with nonprofit needs, willingness to invest in the partnership.
Support the program with dedicated staff
Dedicated staff oversight helps ensure that the program is nurtured and evolved over time and that the participating volunteers’ time is used effectively. Active management of the program also demonstrates that the company values the program and is investing resources to assure its success. Knowledge management, capturing best practice and deeper relationship building with partner nonprofits are often overlooked benefits of having a dedicated staff managing volunteer programs.
Develop a portfolio of volunteer opportunities
A portfolio approach is a key differentiator between an employee volunteer program that just checks the box that a company has a program and a truly dynamic program that speaks to the interests, skills and capacity of a diverse workforce. BCG cites IBM’s On Demand Community and Microsoft’s Volunteer Manager website as rich examples of how to take a portfolio approach to volunteer engagement.
At BCG, a volunteer opportunity portfolio includes a mix of:
- One-time activities (low time commitment, often seasonal like food drives)
- Volunteering Days (organized group activities in the community)
- Ongoing, Monthly Activities (longer-term time commitment for mentoring, project work and more skills-based activities)
- Secondment or Temporary Transfer (loaning staff to nonprofit partners for a period of time with reduced salary)
- Vacation of leave of absence (spend vacation time or longer leave working with a nonprofit)
To this list I would add:
- Micro-volunteering (spending 15 minutes at a time performing digital tasks to support nonprofit needs)
- Pro bono/skills-based service (taking on nonprofit projects alongside paid client work that require the same skills set)
What mix of volunteer opportunities does your company promote?