3 Global CSR Tips for Working with Different Cultures

Mar 7, 2023

While corporate social responsibility is an exciting and challenging field to begin with, global CSR is even more complex. Working with different cultures presents plenty of nuance to be carefully considered in order for your corporate engagement programs to be as effective as possible – for both your employees and the communities you’re working with.

How can companies with a multinational presence effectively scale and deepen their volunteer engagement across their global footprint? Here are some strategies you can leverage, starting today.

Global CSR Tips

Form a Team of Passionate Players with Cultural Awareness

Consider the cultures you’re working with. Be sensitive to cultural nuances, both internal and external, including careful consideration of the culture and customs within a region, as well as your company’s organizational culture. Tailor communications and program design appropriately to account for these nuances. Challenge assumptions and your own cultural biases by identifying locals partnering with employees in each region who can teach you about their culture and how volunteering is perceived. Put a priority on sharing experiences and building learning throughout the system.

Cultural differences in communities in which global companies operate can influence employee volunteer program success. For example, the use of appropriate colors, images and language when branding and promoting a program can help engage employees and nonprofit partners. Understanding the value societies place on individualism and collectivism, the roles of the government and the private sector, and personal space versus workspace are also important factors.

Don’t try to go it alone. One of the best ways to ensure success and maintain momentum is to build a network of champions to serve as front-line leaders for the employee engagement program. Use volunteer committees and councils to help operationalize and localize global CSR strategies.

Be flexible about how you operationalize global priorities, based on input from these leaders. Adapt your volunteer programs to the needs of the local communities you’re working with and trust the feedback you’re getting from those most closely involved with the day-to-day work. Ask plenty of questions to garner this type of valuable feedback – it could make or break the efficacy of the program.

“You might have an idea about the types of support that would most benefit the NGO or community and how your company can deliver on that. Don’t get stuck there, though – as you have those curious and candid conversations with a prospective partner, you might be surprised to learn that the biggest impact you can achieve together is a few layers down from the surface. Perhaps you think a food pantry most needs volunteers to stock shelves and distribute groceries to guests in order to keep up with demand. If you’re open to really listening and meeting the moment, you might find instead that the biggest impact would come from a redesigned inventory tracking system and floor plan to facilitate more efficient guest visits.”

— Katie Stearns, Chief Global Corporate Solutions Officer at Points of Light

Know Your International Laws and Corporate Culture Inside and Out

A variety of factors affect the way global volunteer programs are designed and implemented, including availability of resources, the nature of the business, the makeup of the workforce and community needs. Employee volunteer program leaders identified regional and organizational culture as other important factors. International laws around volunteerism also play a role in the differences from country to country.

Consider this: A company’s corporate culture may influence the policy and design of a formal employee volunteer program created at headquarters. However, there can be constant tension between corporate HQ culture and the informal rules and behaviors of regional offices, which can impact employee engagement and participation.

Below are some examples of cultural norms and best practices in global CSR by region, informed by leaders from Points of Lights Global Network Affiliates.

Latin & Central America

Employee volunteerism emerged in the Latin and Central America region approximately 20 years ago, as multinational companies established employee volunteer programs. Corporate volunteering has evolved and has become far more organized in the last decade with mostly larger companies partnering with NGOs to create opportunities for social impact.

Volunteer programs in this region often support the environment, education, children’s rights, and health disparities. Employee volunteer program challenges include feelings of skepticism toward corporate volunteering, perceived safety issues that deter employee participation, difficulty getting internal buy-in, challenges with internal communication and finding time to participate.


Corporate volunteerism is steadily growing in Europe. However, there is a wide variety of regional differences. Volunteerism is shaped by each country’s unique history, traditions and religion. As interest in corporate volunteering grows and begins to replace traditional team building events, NGOs often find it difficult to plan a large-scale group project that allows a multitude of volunteers to complete meaningful tasks. In the UK, companies that have a year-round approach will find it easier to partner with NGOs rather than limiting group projects to times of the year when it is popular to serve. Companies should also consider providing capacity building grants to ensure smaller NGOs have the funding needed to create group volunteer projects

Volunteering continues to be viewed more as a private activity than something one does with one’s company. Remember this cultural attitude when considering what type of volunteer hours you will track and report for your employee volunteer program — will you count only “company sponsored volunteering,” or individual volunteering that employees do on their own time?

Asia Pacific

Like Europe, the Asia Pacific region is culturally diverse with multiple sub regions. Corporate volunteerism is well developed in this region, with world-class programs established in countries such as India, China, Singapore, Japan and Korea, and skills-based volunteerism gaining much popularity. Generally speaking, volunteerism is group-focused and volunteer activities that provide interaction with the beneficiaries of NGO partners are sought after.

Companies are driven by numbers and targets and for those just starting their employee volunteer programs, social impact is the driving force. Employee volunteerism is seen as a way to enhance a company’s reputation and drive customer loyalty, but also a way to support skill-building and professional development among young professionals. Leadership participation and buy-in is important to achieving high volunteer recruitment in China along with decisions around which projects to pursue.

“In India, corporate volunteering is maturing which is leading to interest in exploring different models including skills-based volunteering and executive level engagement.”

– Shalabh Sahai, Co-Founder & Director, iVolunteer

Partner with Experts to Design, Implement and Improve Your Global CSR Program

Whether you’re just getting started with global CSR efforts or you want to take your existing program to the next level, you’ll likely benefit from a knowledgeable nonprofit partner to help guide you. Points of Light’s Corporate Services Solutions provide best-in-class tools, frameworks and customized support from our team of subject matter experts.

Reach out to our team to learn more about our solutions and how we can help you maximize the impact of your global CSR program.

Katy Elder
Vice President of Corporate Insights, Points of Light

Spending 20 years in the corporate social responsibility sector, Katy mixes creativity and strategy with expertise in employee engagement and corporate citizenship to develop resources and learning opportunities that advance corporate social impact.