Key Findings

In my research, I set out to:

1)
Establish the pragmatic steps employers (of any size) can take to increase the efficiency & effectiveness of their corporate volunteerism, including efforts in education;

2)
Understand the extent to which the use of tech could be an enabler.

For insights to the methodology used, please see here >> 

The Benchmarks

My research suggests that the following are the key benchmarks for best practice in corporate volunteerism:

The Benchmarks Image

Embed

Educate

Energize

 

They were applicable across all tiers of companies (Established, High-Growth, and SMEs), although different tiers tended to have better execution of certain aspects or placed greater emphasis on the use of technology in achieving them.

 

For a detailed look at the benchmarks jump ahead here >>

How did the tiers perform?

For detail on the different tiers, please see Methodology >>

 

Generally, Established companies scored higher overall on the benchmarks, although it is not fair to say “the longer you do CSR and volunteering, the better you get”. Smaller players certainly had merits over others. You can find some general discussion below, although I encourage you to explore the individual benchmark pages for detail.

 

Tier score against the benchmarks (max total = 15)

Tier Comparison Scores

 

Whilst all of the benchmarks are important (strong execution of volunteerism is not about doing any one thing well), there were common traits within tiers suggesting that some benchmarks were easier to achieve at varying stages of company lifecycle.

 

Established Tier

What they tended to do well

This tier generally performed very strongly across the “Embed” benchmarks. In particular, they were very comfortable in defining what they are and are not, and realistic about what they have the expertise to deliver (outsourcing to third-party experts for those areas where they don’t).

Use of technology in this area was moderately correlated with high-performance (0.46 at 99% CI), with most Established companies choosing to outsource technical build of volunteering tools, despite having technical expertise in-house (in some instances). 

 

Gaps to work on

These companies tended to struggle holding middle-managers accountable (and thus incentivised), and reported them frequently as being one of the biggest hurdles to volunteering success.

Strong performance on this tier was strongly correlated to use of tech (0.75 at 99% CI), with leaders such as Gap Inc. using a combination of tracking each manager (and their team)’s performance, a platform with leaderboards (using competition to create short-term behaviour incentives), and setting longer-term conrete targets for each manager related to volunteer programmes (such as the mandatory recruiting of 5% of staff from their This Way Ahead programme). 

 

High-Growth Tier

What they tended to do well

This tier were very adept at linking social focus to their core business model. They weren’t afraid to speak with equal emphasis about wealth creation and social impact through their market-based approaches, as Ashoka‘s Valeria Budunich actively encourages in her book “Scaling up Business Solutions to Social Problems“.

This wasn’t related to a use of technology, but rather a product of strong social company culture and reportedly a grassroots, business-wide inclination. High-Growth companies often had a high proportion of Millennial employees (or even senior leadership), a generation supposedly more inclined to view corporate volunteerism as important vs. previous generations.

 

Gaps to work on

Engaging teams was a weak point for this tier. As within the SME tier, companies could draw upon “gamification” to create a team-bonding activity (and to incentivise certain volunteering behaviours).

Competing on volunteering activities (e.g. volunteering hours, % of team engaged) could be tracked through online leaderboards (some companies built a simple version of this themselves; some outsourced to companies like Benevity).

 

SMEs Tier

What they tended to do well

Having all employees aware of all volunteering opportunities was a strong point for this tier, but not just by virtue of their small size: some companies in the sample had up to 500 employees located worldwide, and thus could not rely on in-person interaction alone.

Use of tech was moderately correlated with high-performance here (0.51 @ 97% CI), with high-performing companies such as Optimizely tended to draw upon a mixture of online collaboration tools (such as Slack), internal online social networks, laptop screensavers, speaker slots at company “All hands” meetings (broadcast online to the entire company), and recruiting internal ambassadors to cascade the messaging in-person to local employees.

 

Gaps to work on

It was rare for companies in this tier to have well defined parameters for the third-party partners they engaged with, this was often due to volunteering opportunities bubbling up from employees at every level across the organisation (often through personal connections or by being physically cloes to their office).

SMEs could learn from their Established company peers by setting a short list of partner parameters: this doesn’t have to involve technology and should emanate from overall social focus & core business strengths as identified in Benchmark 1 (i.e. partnering with third-party experts to fill gaps identified).

Use of tech

Use of technology was strongly correlated to overall high performance on the benchmarks across all tiers (0.82 at a 99% CI), although tech’s usefulness differed across the individual sub-components of each benchmark, and in some cases was not relevant at all (see the individual benchmark pages for details).

Performance on benchmarks strongly correlated to use of tech

Correlation to tech

 

For each of the three benchmark groups, tech was generally helpful for:

Embed

  • Sharing of data internally (for example between HR and CSR teams to measure ROI and business impact)
  • Giving employees access to an up-to-date, widely available and appealing database of volunteer opportunities

Educate

  • Facilitating more effective relationships with third-party experts / partners (for example in continuous engagement & monitoring of performance)
  • Tapping into wider pools of employees to take part in volunteering (For Established companies in particular, I was able to measure how the overall use of tech was very strongly correlated to an increased % of employees volunteering: 0.75 at 99% CI)

Energize

  • Facilitating “gamification” and company-wide storytelling to reinforce desired volunteering behaviours and activities.
  • Increasing ease of measuring ROI and tracking KPIs (a few of the more impressive tools used are moving towards automated tracking of KPIs – such as volunteer hours – to make this ever easier for companies to measure)

Recommendations

 

1) The Benchmarks

The ten benchmarks are recommended as defining the sub-components of strong corporate volunteerism practice. In setting and executing their volunteerism strategy, companies (of all shapes and sizes) should use them to guide their actions, having an awareness of the typical strengths and development areas for each tier, as discussed within each individual benchmark.

 

2) Decentralise CSR

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” 

– Peter Drucker, management consultant

As observed in most of the high-performing companies across tiers and in the literature, CSR and corporate volunteerism were never held tightly to a centralised team at company HQ. Senior leadership were generally vocal about, and often themselves engaged in, employee volunteerism, but key to success was having a grassroots, business-wide involvement in setting volunteerism strategy.

 

3) Treat volunteer management as a marketing machine

CSR Leads at top performing companies often saw marketing as a key tenet of their role: not for making headlines or propaganda, but for:

  • Reinforcing a strong social brand through clarity of strategy & mission focus
  • Communicating opportunities as widely as possible
  • Energizing across the business
  • Seeking regular feedback from your “users” i.e. employees (and third-party partners / beneficiaries)

 

4) Delegate to third-party partners: it’s critical

Established companies took the lead in being particularly comfortable with what they are and what they are not. They tended to outsource parts where third-party experts already had infrastructure in place to avoid reinventing the wheel (even where they had technical capability in-house to build a tool themselves, Airbnb being just one example).

 

Particularly useful in educational initiatives – where both educators & employers often used the phrase “we don’t speak the same language” – a third-party operational partner managing the day-to-day logistics can make all the difference to long-term fruitful partnerships free of logistical fuss, frustrations over communication and mismatched expectations.

 

The same can be said for educational institutions. Stanford and MIT, some of the top universities globally, have robust employer networks for their students to tap into, but it’s more than a full-time job. If you do not have the luxury of a staff member dedicated to networking and managing employer relationships, as many schools do not, this should be outsourced to third-party partners.

 

Acting as a broker, third-party partners can also help corporates take a more strategic approach to finding school, social enterprises and non-profit partners to work with, rather than (for example) simply connecting with a senior leader’s old school or overwhelming smaller partners with their sheer numbers of employee volunteers.

Limitations

  • International validity: Of course, a problem with any international study lies in inferring validity of findings back on home soil. For example, a range of factors are likely to drive corporate volunteering success, including political, economic and cultural factors which are likely specific to one country or another. Thus, we had to think carefully as to whether the successes witnessed were tied to the culture and context of the US & Canada or could possibly be transferred back to the UK. Hopefully we’ve made the right call, but please keep this in mind as you explore the benchmarks in detail.

 

  • Generalisability: Given the nature of a case study approach, findings cannot necessarily be generalised to a wider population. I tried to negate this by drawing upon multiple case studies, and triangulating findings (and refining the benchmarks) with feedback from third-party thought leaders and secondary evidence (in the form of academic & business literature).

Next: Read onwards to The Benchmarks >>

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