CEO Give what you're good at
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Employee development through CSR programmes

1st May 2014
CEO Give what you're good at
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Employees are increasingly demanding that their workplaces not only provide opportunities for them to develop within the business, but outside of it too. With CSR remaining high on the agenda and workers craving the challenges and learning that come via volunteering and community-based initiatives, organisations must master the world of ‘intelligent volunteering’ that not only ticks the boxes when it comes to giving back, but also equips employees with critical business skills and training.

The business world is facing a significant shift when it comes to motivating and engaging with its workforce, driven mainly by the increasing presence of the younger ‘Millennial’ worker. These tech savvy, impatient, non-hierarchical and value-driven employees simply don’t respond to the traditional ‘follow my leader’ style of learning and development. They are looking for something more valuable, more engaging and more purposeful.

Millennials are frequently driven by an underlying motivation, the ‘WHY’ of working for a particular organisation. It is no longer enough to be a valuable, but somewhat invisible part of cog in the successful team. Millennials need to feel that they are directly contributing to the organisation they work for, as well as having a wider purpose and meaning. Denise Restauri describes this well in her recent article for Forbes in which she said ‘Millennials are committed to making the world a better place –both at work and in the causes they support’.

When you combine this trend with the fact that more and more UK charities are facing extinction, with the reason so often being a lack of relevant skills within the organisation, you can see why there is a very strong argument for upping the game when it comes to corporate CSR initiatives.

Give just for giving’s sake, or give what you are actually good at?

I’m pretty sure that most people would choose to give what they're actually good at. It's a tremendous opportunity to open people up, to push themselves further, to work with people they don't on a day to day basis – in a non-hierarchical setting, whilst also expanding their learning and development and making a real difference to the charities they get involved with.

Having said that, I do feel there is often an arrogance when it comes to volunteering - that view of simply sailing off into the sunset to "be of help" as if just being there is enough. Just think how much more help you could provide if you knew about the culture, politics, history and economics of the non-profit organisation you are working with? Matching the needs of the organisation with the skills and personal interests of volunteers is critical to achieving a positive outcome for both the volunteer (and therefore the business) and the charity they are working with.

Before you jump in….

Setting up a CSR initiative just for the sake of it doesn’t do anyone any favours. When a volunteer experience turns bad everyone gets to hear about it, not just in your local community or within the business. Young people will use social media to tell others if they find the day frustrating or of little value. In fact, some studies show that a bad volunteering experience will turn off 89% of people from volunteering for life.

It’s also important to understand  that CSR is not a sticking plaster for deeper problems. Companies need to implement transparent policies which allow employees to be heard, within a wider business context, not just in your CSR initiatives. A consistent, company wide culture is needed, as CSR initiatives can’t plaster deeper cracks. Ideally, CSR-based learning needs to be matched, measure and communicated and the charity's time should be thoughtfully utilised.

Top tips for success

If you are looking to develop your corporate CSR programmes further, I would recommend you follow these essential steps.

  1. Do your research: Companies looking to establish skilled volunteering challenges need to do their research. Interview the charity you are interested in helping to get to the nub of their problem and how you can help. You’d be surprised how many non-profits think what they desperately need is a video (when they have nowhere to show it) when what they actually need desperately is a financial model.
  2. Setting KPIs to measure success - Set some KPIs with the charity to measure the impact of your skills. For example if you have a marketing team giving their skills you might want to benchmark things like current level of individual donations, or simply ask the charity to confirm they have Google analytics installed.
  3. Don't let communications go stale. Tell people what’s going on and capitalize on the skilled volunteering advocates you should have cultivated from the day.
  4. Stay focused on the learning outcome. Skilled volunteering is a learning development not a fluffy nice to have. Every minute of the day needs to be thought through.

If done right, skilled volunteering can push up performance standards, drive profits and help communities. CSR programmes should always be focused on how they enable the individual to feel they have made the biggest impact with their time.

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By Peter Cook
01st May 2014 10:55

Not exactly new - I was doing this stuff in the 1970's and 80's working for Wellcome, the first philanthropic pharmaceutical company in the world, which earned 4 Nobel prizes for its work.  Wellcome understood CSR long before we had to invent the buzzword.  It also understood what Dan Pink and Lady Gaga talk about when they talk about combining profit with purpose.

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