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Is Your Corporate Culture Defining Your Employee Volunteerism or Vice Versa?

Thursday, January 21, 2016
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“My company makes medical supplies,” she tells me sharply, like I should know better.

“No, I understand that, I’m familiar with your industry,” I say apologetically, slightly confused. As a corporate social responsibility consultant, I’m only trying to help this woman’s organization develop its employee volunteer program (EVP).

“Ok, then why are you asking if my employees would be interested in informational canvassing about disaster preparedness?” She pauses; I pause with her, waiting for her to complete her thought. “I mean, can’t we just host a blood drive?”

“Sure!” I respond. “That’s a great option too. I just wanted to give you choices for volunteer opportunities—”

She cuts me off. “We make medical supplies. I can’t justify our employees hitting the streets talking to people about earthquakes.”

Corporate culture is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s implied; other times it’s expressly defined. But it’s not always the core of the culture that actually defines it. Often, it’s everything stemming from the center that paints a more accurate picture of a company’s culture.

Making medical supplies is not itself an element of that company’s culture. However, choosing to engage your employees only in volunteer opportunities that involve technical or medical application? Now that’s defining culture.

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Some companies go in the opposite direction, opting for open-choice volunteerism instead of allowing its EVP to define its culture. As long as the organization being served has a 501(c)(3), the company counts it toward its larger EVP goals and outcomes. In this way, a company’s culture isn’t defined simply by its industry; it’s also defined by its inclusion and flexibility.

Both models have limited advantages and broader shortcomings. Looking for volunteer and philanthropic opportunities that match your industry can be limiting and tiring. And having an open-choice EVP model allows for a wealth of opportunity, but attempting to organize and present value or metrics for each individual effort can be overwhelming and complicated to define.

Finding a Middle Ground

When it comes to employee volunteer programs, some companies are bridging the gap between defining and owning culture in creative ways.

Leverage Your Industry as a Medium. Some companies use their industry as a sort of theme or medium to organize their EVP. One great example of this is a national energy company that playfully uses its industry model to “fuel” local volunteer and philanthropic efforts. Employees can volunteer for almost any organization as long as they’re providing programmatic “fuel” or offering “energetic” participation. Adorable, yes, but also extremely effective for developing a culture that’s supported by the company and its EVP.

Leverage Your Industry as a Medium 2.0. Some companies are taking their organizational theme to another level by also investing in EVP models that allow for pro-bono and loaned leadership volunteerism. An example of this is a technology company that offers paid time off for skilled employees to volunteer their expertise and time to nonprofits that need it, or to provide pro bono, contracted support. These kinds of efforts are usually more project-based or finite, but create a cultural ripple effect that’s mutually beneficial and defining.

Rally Around Pillars of Choice. Many companies ask their employees to help them define several thematic or core areas of impact to support an open-choice EVP model. Ask your employees to pick their top three impact areas (poverty relief, conservation, disaster relief, children’s cancer cures, and so on) and then use the data to identify the organization’s top philanthropic or EVP priorities. This is a fantastic way to engage your employees while helping to define your company’s culture.

This is an exciting time for corporate social responsibility and corporate volunteerism programming. Your company has the opportunity to define—or redefine—itself by looking at how your employees volunteer in their local communities. Look at your own EVP. How does it represent your corporate culture? And more important, what could it represent? The time is now. Culture is calling.

About the Author

Ben Bisbee is a dreamer, a doer, a madman with focus; the good kind of dangerous. A multi-sector professional with more than 20 years of experience building successful and award-winning community and development programs for organizations of all shapes and sizes, Ben is currently the CVO at Rhinocorn, a design house for nonprofit innovation and advancement projects. Considering himself a social technologist, Ben is quickly becoming known for his work in virtual technology and methodologies, helping to build strengthened relationships between humans and the technology they use to work, play, and engage. Ben lives in northeast Ohio with his husband, Joe, and their 10 cats.

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