Benchmark 3

Mobilize & set internal roles / responsibilities



Benchmark 3: “Mobilize & set internal roles / responsibilities” implies a highly visible CSR function, delegating localised decision-making to employees.

Benchmark 3 Components:

  1. Senior leadership buy-in, approval of activities & budget
  2. Senior individual(s) accountable for general CSR efforts 
  3. Individual non-CSR team employees given localised responsibilities
  4. Empower employees through choice
  5. Close collaboration between CSR / HR


1. Senior leadership buy-in, approval of activities & budget

Securing support & credibility from senior leadership is, as you would expect, critical to growing a volunteer programme in terms of budget, time allocation and employee participation levels.


Optimizely’s Co-Founder & ex-CEO is a “champion” of Pledge 1% – a campaign encouraging early stage corporate philanthropy. This has ensured that “giving back” lies at the heart of their company culture, even as the CEO role changed hands recently.


Similarly at Accredible, a start-up delivering digital certificates, badging and blockchain credentials, Co-Founder & CEO Danny King gives each employee a “learning” budget and 4 hours per week to spend on volunteering or developing a new skill.


2. Senior individual(s) accountable for general CSR efforts

As made clear in Benchmark 1, it’s important to have CSR on the strategy table. Therefore, a senior-level & highly visible individual should have accountability for CSR and volunteering efforts.


Start-ups are unlikely to have a VP of CSR at such an early stage, so this is likely to be a Co-Founder / CEO. Kevn Phillips, the ex-CTO of Kabbage now takes the lead on corporate volunteerism, whereas Airbnb Co-Founder Joe Gebbia recently launched their humanitarian division called Human, which was consequently inundated with existing employees wanting to get involved.


3. Individual non-CSR team employees given localised responsibilities

Whilst business decisions such as budget & strategic priorities make sense to be reserved for centralised HQ decision-making, local offices and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are often better placed to implement and drive the operations. Many of the case studies mentioned middle managers as being a potential bottleneck in successful volunteering initiatives and a need to get them on board early.


Some start-ups who had committed to Pledge 1% – an initiative whereby startups pledge 1% of their product, time and/or equity for social good – found a tension between donating product and sales managers (incentivised by commission).


Gap Inc. is well aware of this. Within each city, Gap HQ will contribute to the salary of those employees taking the role of “City Leader”. This role is crucial for managing Gap’s volunteering operations and non-profit partnerships.


4. Empower employees through choice

Given that 90% of companies list employee engagement amongst the top benefits of employee volunteerism, it is important to cater to employee’s varying motivations to serve and the complete spectrum of life and career stages that they are facing.


Make volunteering accessible to all by offering a menu of highly-personalised opportunities: in-person, online, micro- and skills-based volunteering. Offer paid-release time during the working day, as well as opportunities on the weekends/evenings.


Of course, catering to thousands of differing employee needs is impossible for a small CSR team (if you’re fortunate enough to have one). Thus, it’s key to have grassroots employee inputs, so long as they fit within the wider company CSR objectives. The CSR team at Square bring monthly opportunities to the table, but allow employees to bring ideas too. Benevity’s platform allows employees to upload volunteer opportunities they’ve come across and share with colleagues.


5. Close collaboration between CSR / HR

Integrating volunteering initiatives into HR activities, whether recruitment, skills-development, team-building or employee appraisals, can not only help to increase the percentage of employees taking part, but is more likely to have employees take up localised responsibility for volunteer programmes (and thus easing the burden from any centralised CSR team).


Airbnb are a fantastic example. Head of Employee Engagement, Rachel Katz, gives employees peer reviews to ensure their managers are aware of their volunteering contribution. When it comes to their annual performance appraisal, volunteering is often a way for employees to demonstrate how they’re living Airbnb’s core values.


Similarly, in their employee appraisals, Kabbage measure how many hours employees clock-up vs. the required 32 volunteer hours per year. They also see it as a great way to measure whether employees fit within the Kabbage culture.

What each tier does well

Established Company


This tier was particularly adept at getting senior-leadership buy in (in terms of delegation of responsibility and having a set budget for volunteering programmes), with an average score of 4.82 out of 5. They were also likely to offer employees the widest choice of volunteer “themes” and ways to get involved (e.g. during work time, outside of the office, in-person, online, etc).


Did tech help?
Many of the Established companies had a central tech platform giving employees a variety of choices and options to get involved in volunteering (this was either self-built or utilising a white label version of Benevity), as well as a place to upload their own ideas. High-performance on this benchmark was very strongly correlated to use of technology for this tier in particular (0.78 at a 99% CI).



This tier performed very strongly across this entire benchmark in general, but of particular note was their strong CSR team collaboration with HR (often linking volunteering efforts in with annual appraisals).


Did tech help?
Many companies in this tier had some kind of online system for giving real-time employee feedback, which was a simple, effective and regular way for volunteering initiatives to tie in with HR. Some companies in fact spoke of spikes in giving and receiving feedback after their annual volunteer “Giving Week”-type events.



Similarly to the Established tier, SMEs had strong senior leadership buy-in. This comes as no surprise given that often the senior leadership themselves run CSR activities before it emerges as a separate function.


Did tech help?
Tech was not particularly relevant to getting strong leadership buy-in. Interestingly, CSR and volunteerism was launched internally by the Co-Founder (i.e. as their “pet project”) in only half of the cases: often it would bubble up from employees seeking a civic engagement of some kind! 

Filling the gaps

Toggle through each tier below to explore the weakest areas of performance against this benchmark:  


How tech might help

Use of technology was moderately correlated to CSR / HR collaborating well (0.5 at 99% CI), so whilst it seems culture plays a role in its adoption across the tiers (i.e. real-time employee feedback tools seem to be utilised less effectively within Established companies), there could be merit in SMEs embedding this at an early stage. 


Linking volunteering to employee appraisals through real-time feedback tools is, of course, only one way to link CSR and HR teams. Something only a small percentage of the companies considered was volunteering as a pipeline for recruiting (e.g. underserved students in Gap Inc‘s case). There could be potential to link third-party partner data on beneficiaries to internal HRIS, although I didn’t come across this yet.

Case Studies:

Tech as an enabler

IBM Logo

IBM’s CSR team collaborate very closely with HR, with the belief that volunteering can provide a great learning & personal development opportunity for employees.

IBM’s self-built global platform, IBM Volunteers, matches both existing and retired employees to a multitude of volunteer opportunities that best utilise employee skills & experiences. The portal also gives employees on-demand access to skills-based “activity kits” (incl. Presentations and educational modules) to prepare and equip them ahead of volunteering. It also links employee volunteering activity directly to annual HR performance reviews, including to showcase those employees who volunteer as “Service Leaders” to lead local volunteering initiatives. 

Education-specific best practice

ATT Logo

AT&T’s Aspire education initiative volunteers & invests in evidence-based educational programmes that lead to high school and career success. But they don’t just invest and volunteer: AT&T follows through to actually hire some of their student beneficiaries.

Through measuring metrics (such as hiring costs saved and increased employee retention rate) as well as sharing successful case studies, the CSR team has managed to forge a strong link with internal HR and business goals and create a scalable initiative that allows AT&T to do good in the world, whilst building a diverse talent pipeline of the next generation.


Accredible Logo

Accredible, a startup delivering digital certificates, badging and blockchain credentials, is yet to formalise a CSR strategy or launch an internal CSR function, but Co-Founder Danny King is determined to demonstrate their socially-minded culture from the get-go. Each employee is given a “learning budget” and the flexibility to spend 4 hours of every working week either volunteering in the community or learning a new skill.

Next: Read onwards to Benchmark 4 >>

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