Ask a CSR Friend: Gaining Senior Leader Support for Employee Volunteering

Jul 10, 2024

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Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, we know it takes a village to create vibrant workplaces where employees are equipped to contribute to the communities and causes they care about. So, when you need a trusted advisor to lean on, rely on Points of Light to be Your CSR Friend. Each month, our experts share their wisdom and wit to address a specific but often universal challenge related to your work as a corporate social impact practitioner.

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Dear CSR Friend,

I work for a small business, and we’ve done a few group volunteer projects from time to time over the years. I sit in HR and this has become a passion of mine after witnessing the benefits it can provide for our staff. I recently asked my supervisor for resources to turn our sporadic efforts into something strategic and sustainable. She’s set up a meeting with senior leadership so that I can present my ideas. I want to be fully prepared for what they might ask me. Do you have any guidance?


Anxious in Annandale

Dear Anxious,

In today’s world, making a positive social impact is more important for businesses than ever before. If you’re about to pitch a workplace volunteer strategy to senior leadership, you’ve got a golden opportunity to turn those occasional volunteer events into a solid, ongoing strategy. Anticipating potential questions can help ensure you are well-prepared, so here are resources to respond to the top three questions senior leadership are likely to ask you.

Why should we invest in employee volunteering? What are the benefits and projected outcomes?

First, identify the business challenges that are top of mind for your senior leaders and then tailor your pitch accordingly. A strong and strategic employee volunteer program will benefit the communities where the company operates, employee well-being, and several other key business factors that will be incredibly relevant to your audience like:

  • Talent attraction and recruitment. Company support for employee volunteering provides an additional incentive for strong candidates to accept job offers.
  • Employee morale. This can lead to improved retention, greater satisfaction and productivity, along with increased company pride and loyalty.
  • Skill development. Participation in volunteer activities helps employees develop new skills and leverage current skills in addressing community needs.
  • Company image within the community. This can help differentiate a company from its competition while also creating a positive reputation among investors and consumers as a responsible corporate citizen.
  • Return on investment. Reduced turnover, increased productivity, potential new marketing and sales relationships, and more.

Honestly, it’s also incredibly risky to NOT engage in some type of corporate responsibility activities due to loss of market share – regardless of whether your company is B2C or B2B. See our learning brief, Proof Points to Support Investment in Employee Community Engagement, which will link you to research to help you further illustrate the need to invest in an employee volunteer program.

What resources are needed?

The adage “volunteering isn’t free” is true when it comes to your community partners and is paramount for senior leaders to understand. You’ll need to request financial investment for a multitude of things like salaries, partnership grants for project management and supplies, technology platform implementation and maintenance, communication materials and their production, volunteer t-shirts and branded swag, recognition and other operational items. You might also eventually consider having a budget set aside for supportive programs such as Volunteer Time Off or Dollars-for-Doers in which small grants are issued to nonprofits served by employees. But, you don’t have to ask for a sizeable investment upfront. Start slowly so you can showcase that return on investment after the first few years and then grow your budget.

Budgets vary greatly, and companies invest anywhere from less than $20 to more than $1000 per employee. CECP’s 2023 Giving in Numbers report tells us that companies with revenue under $5 billion had median management and program costs of around $1.3 million. Traditionally, investments are low compared to employee training, which might be the most cost-comparable business function. The average organization spent $1,220 per employee on workplace learning in 2022, according to the Association for Talent Development’s 2023 State of the Industry report.

CECP’s 2023 Giving in Numbers also reports that the median number of FTEs for contributions staff (employees who oversee, manage, or directly administer corporate/foundation community investments and/or employee volunteering) was 11 in 2022. For companies with a less than 10k workforce, the median was 8. Having the support of 11 FTEs may seem totally unrealistic for the size of your workforce, so reiterate that, while top executives are increasingly recognizing the importance of having a dedicated team for corporate responsibility activities, we have seen magic happen with one FTE and some passionate (and well-trained) employees spread throughout business functions. Having a dedicated team, though, will send a message internally and externally that the company understands their important role as a good corporate citizen.

What might be barriers to success and how can we plan for them at the outset?

A tried-and-true sign of a leader is bringing solutions rather than issues so absolutely be prepared to illustrate the barriers to success and ways you — with help from senior leaders — can overcome them.

  • Not being strategic: Identify those business priorities that can be supported through engaging in communities. But also think about the core services and competencies that the company and your fellow employees can offer to nonprofit partners. This will reinforce the notion that your program is a business initiative, not just the warm-and-fuzzy volunteering of yore. Be thoughtful about when and who you partner with and align with company milestones and those important focus areas.
  • Lack of buy-in from middle management (and sometimes senior leaders): Middle managers especially may feel that they do not have a stake in the program. Developing policies and practices that institutionalize the program and associated activities will give the workforce a place to reference and better understand what is permitted. You might also develop communication and training materials to provide to your middle management, so they feel confident in administering policies. Reinforce the benefits of serving together and how that can reap dividends for teams and the company at large. Top-down communications will also go a long way to support the idea that this is the direction in which the company is headed.
  • Driving internal awareness and participation in year one: Besides developing a strong and consistent internal communication plan using the appropriate channels and vehicles to reach your diverse workforce, use a galvanizing enterprise-wide moment to build excitement and motivation. Or build out an employee champion or committee infrastructure to support markets outside of HQ and ensure they feel empowered and educated. Download this learning brief to find out more about creating effective volunteer champion and council models.

Hopefully the last question you’ll be asked is, “how do we get started?” which indicates that senior leaders are ready to start the company’s formal social impact journey. But remember, you don’t have to go it alone. There are organizations out there that can help you fully design the right strategy for your company, including Points of Light. Check out our resources on creating an employee volunteer program that has value for your colleagues, your company, and the communities in which it operates, and reach out if we can help.

Until next time,
Your CSR Friend

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