- Fundación Española para el Fomento de la Investigación de la Esclerosis Lateral Amiotrófica. (http://www.fundela.info)
- Asociación Española de ELA (http://www.adelaweb.com)
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?
Sitting on the train (AVE) in-between Madrid and Barcelona, I reflect on the speech about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and corporate volunteer programs I just held at IESE Business School invited by Kellogg’s. Beside being grateful for the invitation and hoping that my contribution lived up to the expectations of the host and the audience, other thoughts pop-up.
What is the value of having a volunteer organization as part of the activities a company does under the umbrella of “Corporate Responsibility”? Is volunteering a contribution to the total scope of Corporate Responsibility or is it a pure internal employee program? The intention of my short speech was to exemplify how some companies with Corporate Social Responsibility programs also may have a volunteer program with the purpose of giving the employees of the companies the possibility to “make a difference”. Present were several of the most important companies in the country and their stories were “wow” and really making a difference. Some of them had the volunteer program incorporate in the communication organization, others had it under the umbrella Corporate Social Responsibility and some, as my company, as a separate unit.
My key words were:
- corporate values
I chose not to enter the debate of if it is or isn´t Corporate Social Responsibility to have a volunteer program, and decided that I would spend my 20 minutes to convey a message about the core of a volunteer organization, seen from a employee´s point of view and the point of view of the Management Team. I talked about the importance of understanding the volunteer organization as the “soul” of a company and as part of the company´s investment in their employees and/or Corporate Social Responsibility. To make something un-tangible such as the “soul” of a company to something much more tangible. I talked about the importance of linking these activities to the vision, to the mission, to the objectives of the company, to tie it all together so that the employees would understand the fluffy words from a power point presentation at any internal meeting, and make them real through volunteer activities, be able to touch the vision, feel the mission and breath its all essence. I talked about corporate values in its pure state, and how they become understood in the tasks an employee as a volunteer makes out in the field. How they understand, to the very deep of its meaning, the core values of its company just by acting “in the name of” that company. How you, as a volunteer, become the company in the eyes of others out in the field, because when you stand there, on the ground and have been assigned to solve a problem, you are the company and you feel like it. How these words (core values), taken from the same power point slide at an internal meeting, is what you hold tight to when somebody see you as Miss Companyname.
I mentioned what I see happens when you, as a volunteer, return to that company after haven had your experience as volunteer. How you have learned things hard to learn in an office just by living them. Things like teamwork, cooperation, leadership, problem-solving, respect, professionalism and how all this you have learned, now incorporated into your blood, is conveyed in coffee areas, in work-processes, in your day-to-day work. Conveyed, to the extent that it is “contagious” so your colleagues, their families and those that are told the story live the corporate values of your company. And it creates value. Vale for the individual that got the experience, value for the company that gained a motivated, engaged and highly competent worker, value for the society that benefited from your actions. Value that has no price (does somebody dare to put a price on this)? Value that must be appreciated from “the top” to “the bottom”, because in doing so, in creating volunteer organizations that have “soul” that are connected with vision and core values, a company makes their business human, tangible and understood by visualizing all this through their volunteer organization.
And many of the other speakers said the same. Told stories that showed the essence of Corporate Social Responsibility. This gives hope. Social Responsibility is entering the space of a company in a natural way, creating conscious Corporate Social Responsibility organizations and/or volunteer organization and that is extremely important for the future of any worker, company and country.
Do you share this view?