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‘Transformational’ volunteering to replace ‘transactional’ in US

February 2015

The days of counting employee volunteer hours as an indicator of valuable community service are on the wane.

Corporate volunteer programs in the US and globally are moving in the direction of volunteerism that is “transformational” versus merely “transactional,” suggests Realized Worth, a Toronto-rooted global firm that guides and coaches corporations such as Apple, Estée Lauder and McDonald’s, on making volunteer initiatives impactful.

Angela Parker, co-founder and partner of Realized Worth, says there is a shift from “metrics by numbers to metrics by impact.”

All agree measuring effect is not easy. But as CSR programs evolve and volunteering more inherent the public has started to ask, say, what “one million volunteer hours donated” actually has accomplished, according to Parker.
In the past, “volunteers would show up, do the work, and leave. While transactional volunteering is not inherently a bad thing, it’s certainly not good enough,” said Parker. “The purpose of empowering employees is to enable them to become more connected to marginalized people and issues – so connected in fact, that they become the kind of people who make better decisions because of their experiences.”

This more involved volunteer experience can lead to significant business benefits such as higher rates of productivity, improved health and increased recruitment and retention rates. “We want to see employees changed by volunteering and change the world in the process,” said Parker.

Seeing how volunteerism has solidified within major corporations, the United Nations Volunteer division has launched an initiative to tap into those burgeoning private sector resources and harness these activities in common cause against global sustainability goals.

Under its just two-month-old UN Impact 2030 program, 15-year goals will be set that participating corporations will work together to achieve. Areas of focus could include poverty, water scarcity and child mortality, with formalized goals to be announced in September. Funding will be specifically dedicated to measuring outcomes.

UN Impact 2030, if successful, has potential to become the most sweeping and galvanizing corporate volunteer undertaking ever. “Through Impact 2030, companies are empowered to collaborate,” said Parker, who believes the day may be at hand that volunteerism as a company asset could finally be taken seriously in the C-suite. To many it is still seen, she said, “as a day out of the office or a casual Friday.”

Chevy Chase, Md. – based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is a founding partner company of Impact 2030, along with UPS, SAP, IBM and others. Along with their leadership, they are making significant financial and resource commitments, according to Sue Stephenson, vice chairperson of the Impact 2030 executive committee and vice president of the Ritz-Carlton’s award-winning Community Footprints program, whose many endeavors include student mentoring (pictured above).

“(Impact 2030) is a multi-sector initiative with representatives from companies around the world,” explained Stephenson. “This will be a very global, but laser-focused initiative.” The committee is in talks with firms from China, India and South Africa to help round out involvement, and hopes to have 100 companies on board by the fall launch. “We have seen an incredible amount of interest.”

To facilitate cooperation and share knowledge and resources, ‘Regional Voice Networks’ are being planned in communities targeted for projects. “The intent of this is to be feet on the ground, rather than something directed from the US,” said Stephenson. The Networks will provide a forum for stakeholders, as well as, assist in research and measurement studies.

Performance indicators will be clearly defined. “So that what it means in the US is the same as in China or Australia and everyone is measuring the same impact,” said Stephenson. “For showing impact against the goals is going to be key. We know what gets measured gets done.”

San Francisco-based Volunteer Match started out as a resource to connect volunteers with causes, but due to demand now also supports corporate volunteer programs. Its corporate client base of 150 including Target and United Airlines, seek assistance in tracking and assessing their volunteer initiative, according to Vicky Hush, vice president of engagement and strategic partnerships.

Hush is seeing growth in corporate volunteer programs and also in the seriousness surrounding them.
“There has definitely been an uptick in companies that have these types of programs. And we are seeing smaller companies create programs and also want the technology to support it,” said Hush.

“What is interesting too is that companies are getting more transparent about the reasons they are doing this,” said Hush. “If you take the idea out that it is the right thing to do and then peel back why else they are doing it. There are team building, personal development and marketing skills and those sorts of things.” 

North America | Volunteering

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