3 concerns that worries when setting up a Volunteer Program

Patricia Polvora speaker at IESE about volunteer program

Video of Patricia Polvora speaking at IESE about Corporate Responsibility and Volunteer Programs – in Spanish

Lately, I have been talking at several workshops, had meetings and coffee-shop discussions around the subject Corporate Social Responsibility and Volunteer Programs. An area that is continuously growing, in every companies Steering Group agenda and in the minds of its workers. There are a few questions that pop-up now and then when the words «Corporate Social Responsibility and volunteering is on the table. I few «worries». I would like to reflect on three of them and contribute with my thoughts related to these question.

What is the value of a Volunteer Program?

Everybody want it, everybody would like to «have it» but not as many have integrated it in their business, values and vision. Depending on who you ask in an organization, you may get a different answer, but if you think of this question from a corporate perspective, a Corporate Social Responsibility point of view, the value must be very much linked to the core of the business, the pure existence of a company, the history and soul of an enterprise. In most cases, you will find that the volunteer program, the possibilities to provide employees a platform where to evolve competencies and where to realize themselves, makes the company tangible. It makes it human and you would say, it gives it «soul». Everybody can relate to and feel for a solidarity action, being the one executing it, or being the one seeing it happen. Human actions are closer to our hearts than boxes, services and KPIs. The value of a Volunteer Program may therefore be, that it brings the company closer to the customer, to the providers and to the employees. Making them feel part of something, creating value, being human.

This is the reason for why a volunteer program can not «live by itself» isolated from the business. It has to be incorporated, embedded in the vision, the mission and the values of the company. The whole culture. With that as a start, a company can take any step and know that its employees will make the out most to comply with expectations and they feel that they work for a more «human» company that cares.

Isn’t it only “a cost” to set up a Volunteer Program?

It depends. It depends on how you value a Volunteer Program. It depends on how strong your Corporate Social Responsibility work is integrated with your business. The Financial Department may tag it as «overhead costs», but most companies should see it as an investment. As a long-term investment, where the invested money give return in intangibles such as loyal employees, engagement, soul-driven organization, teamwork, cooperation, empty…Could this be calculated in terms of return? Probably, but it is needed? Or can an organization just «see» and «feel» in the atmosphere that what they do in this area, has a value. I think so. I think this value can be transmitted from person to person, from company to organization and in the brand itself.

How do you set up a Volunteer Program?

To set up a Volunteer Program is as time-consuming, complex and structured as setting un any type of organization or business line. You have to start by defining the reason for why you will set up the organization, what needs are you covering, who is your audience, how much will it cost and how will you communicate and measure your results. This part may be very administrative, bureaucratic and static. Far away from the dynamism of a Volunteer Program, but totally needed. If a volunteer activity is far away from, or even contradicting the pure purpose of the business itself, it will just result in confusing messaging. If a Volunteer Program is not accepted or understood by its employee, it has failed in its purpose. Therefore, we must avoid a very common mistake, the mistake of deciding what activities we want to do (because it is easier) before knowing why we will do it and for whom.

Share your experience! What reflections do you have in this area?

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