Corporate Eye

Promoting CSR & Employee Volunteer Programs

I invited Hattie James to write a post for us about employee volunteer programmes. Hattie has experience in building an employee volunteer program, and is interested in how they can help with recruiting as well as corporate social responsibility.

Over to you, Hattie!


The concept of social responsibility is key for corporations. For many organizations, it can make or break public relations, profits, even the company’s existence. Today, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is just as important to the people in the organization as it is the people who support it.

There are many facets of CSR and ways of promoting it. Typically, CSR is seen as the corporation’s responsibility with its business practices, from how sustainable its manufacturing might be to how it reacts to a global crisis. However, CSR is bigger than that.

Larry Parnell, director of the George Washington University’s Strategic Public Relations Program, differentiates between traditional CSR and strategic CSR in his presentation Corporate Social Responsibility. According to Parnell:

“Strategic social responsibility is this concept of doing well by doing good. That’s both operationally, in terms of how you manage your resources. And your people, but also in the community and in the world at large, what kind of activities, programs and undertakings are you involved in that benefit the market that you are hoping to serve. An example of this would be IBM or other technology companies donating used recycled computers to homework centers in cities where access to computers is hard to get for economic or other reasons. And training students on how to use computers and use computers to do science, technology . . .”

Under Parnell’s model, IBM uses employee volunteering to do more than just serve its community. The donations are paired with employees training students how to use the hardware and software, thus making the impact on the community greater and benefiting the company by encouraging the students to use computers.

How, then, do you go about promoting CSR through employee volunteer programs (EVPs) like IBM’s?

Find Your Experts

Chances are, you already have a number of employees who have spent years doing volunteer work or giving their time to a nonprofit. If you don’t know, or don’t know who they are, put out a call via internal communications, letting your organization know that an EVP will be built.

Seek out the employee volunteers who do the most but seek the least personal publicity. These are your true EVP ambassadors. When your EVP is built, these are they people you want to be the face of your company.

Their participation in the EVP serves a dual purpose. It builds participation by drawing like-minded employees to the program, and it builds external PR through the example set in the community by the participants.

The expertise of these volunteer ambassadors is also needed to build the EVP because they are the ones most experienced with this type of CSR, even if they don’t realize it.

Find Their Skills

Once you’ve identified your volunteer ambassadors and created your EVP planning committee, it’s time to decide how you’re going to structure how employees give their time. Corporations that are large and niche-based, like IBM in Parnell’s example, are set up for large-scale volunteer days, or even weeks.

Private organizations that can offer employees paid time off for volunteer days can partner with a single nonprofit. This deeper relationship with a charitable organization is a great way for your business to get involved, as it can last years.

However, if your organization is smaller or encompasses multiple business units, building a skills-based EVP can prove more beneficial for your employees and your community. Skills-based volunteering matches individuals and groups of individuals with charitable endeavors that match their personal or professional skills. If you’re a large engineering and architecture firm, you can, for example, encourage one business unit to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and another to complete environmental clean-up.

This model EVP will attract more employees to the program, as pairing your EVP with one nonprofit partner can alienate employees who would otherwise participate. Employees want to care about their volunteer experiences as much as their jobs. Letting them choose how they interact with the community. Suggest to the legal team that it volunteer with community justice programs. If, however, they choose to use their skills for a different nonprofit, herein lies the beauty of the model.

Find the Recognition

Employees participate in an EVP for a variety of reasons, but they’re rarely about recognition. Just building an EVP in your organization can go a long way to recognizing their efforts and to boosting CSR within the company.

However, that doesn’t mean your EVP should be without recognition or reward of any kind. Leaving it at, “They do it because they care,” is not enough. Incorporate participation in the EVP into the corporate reward program. Look to the example of how nonprofits recognize their volunteers, and begin a Volunteer of the Month award in your company. Publicize this internally and externally.

If your organization can afford to do so or is allowed to do so, offer employees paid time off to do their charitable work. Offer the financial reward of matching any monetary donations made by the employees. Not only are these matches tax write-offs, they can be communicated to the public as a sign of CSR.

Find Your Voices

Once your EVP is built, it’s time to roll it out within the organization and the community. Plan your roll-out strategically. Depending on your location, find out when volunteers are celebrated nationally, and use that as your rollout month or week. In the U.K., National Volunteers Week is being celebrated for an extended period this year: June 1-12. In the U.S., National Volunteer Month is celebrated every April. Create your own organizational volunteer week to highlight both facets of the EVP and volunteer opportunities within your community.

Share any information via social media channels so that your community can see what you are planning. Once employees begin volunteering as part of the EVP, encourage them to share with Public Information Officers their own pictures and stories.

During large-scale volunteer days, media officers should be made available to document the efforts of employees. This documentation is key to the promotion of CSR among employees and to the community at large. Without it, no one knows what efforts are being made.

Writing for inc42, Kevin Kruse defined employee engagement as, “People give loyalty and discretionary effort to those who foster growth, show appreciation, share a compelling vision and are trustworthy.”

This extends to efforts to engage customers as well as potential employees. Both customers and recruits care about how corporations are impacting communities, not just about products and money. Planning a thorough EVP will be key to CSR and employee engagement.

Thanks Hattie!

Hattie James is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She holds an MBA and enjoys local ciders and the outdoors. Follow her on Twitter: @hejames1008

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Samantha Stauf

EVP programs are great, but I think companies need to remember when putting together volunteer efforts to also occasionally give back to the community personally.

People today are pretty savvy and company giving campaigns, like urging customers to give to Doctors Without Borders at the cash register or urging employees to volunteer in their free-time, are pretty over-saturated right now.

Part of what makes IBM great is that they also give used computers to needy communities. Some of them might be donated to IBM by citizens, but some of the used computers are probably acquired with IBMs own funds. So they have a balance. It’s not just the heads at IBM trying to find a way to prop up their community image while spending as little as they can of their own money.

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