April 23, 2014

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From Check Boxes to Powering the Possible: Dell Reframes Community Service

Historically, our team-based volunteer campaigns were good at generating short-term activity. However, they tended to create a “one-and-done” mentality.

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By Deb Bauer and Jenn Friday Jones

Creating a culture of volunteerism isn’t just good for our communities — it’s vital for Dell’s business. 

Through conversations with our nonprofit partners, Dell knows that person-power can amplify the effect of our grants; this is especially important in today’s economy, where every dollar is stretched for as much return as possible. At the same time, this service boosts team-member morale and engages them in our company and the community, making them happier in their careers and more loyal to Dell.

Check boxes: Cultivating A Culture of Volunteerism

Just three years ago, our team members volunteered approximately 200,000 hours annually. In our recently ended fiscal year, we more than tripled that total to 700,000 hours. And more than half our team members participated — 56 percent. Their reach is global and touches thousands of charities in 60 countries, with highest participation reported in Asia and Latin America.

The shift to such robust engagement has been a methodical one. Historically, our traditional team-based volunteer campaigns were good at generating short-term activity; Dell is a competitive company, and team members liked the challenge of completing projects in a short timeframe. However, the campaigns tended to create a “one-and-done” mentality where many people checked a Dell employees volunteeringbox on their service and didn’t think about it again until the next year.

The challenge was to transition from short bursts of community service seasons to a year-round mindset in which volunteering is an ongoing activity. We also wanted to reflect our team member population: the majority is under the age of 40, many work remotely and more than half sit outside the United States.

Several initiatives have fueled our community service charge:

  • An online, social community. We launched our online Powering the Possible portal (named after our broader corporate responsibility commitment) two and a half years ago. Team members can now log volunteer hours, donate to charities and find new causes to support. Equally important, they can post photos, share stories and connect with others interested in similar activities and communicate news (for instance, during a natural disaster). With more than 59,000 members, the portal has connected our team worldwide through philanthropic activity.

    We also want to help our team members volunteer more strategically as we’ve seen first-hand the added impact Dell can have when we put our distinct skills to work. This year, we launched a skills-tracking function to the portal, where team members list their expertise and connect with charities in need of those specific services. We’ve already seen an uptick from 6 percent to 17 percent of team members participating. And we’re highlighting opportunities with our strategic giving partners, helping our team members understand that their time can be vital for nonprofits who are receiving Dell technology and grants.

  • A governance structure that accommodates both top-down and bottom-up engagement. Our Global Giving Council comprises top-level executive leadership, guides our philanthropic programs, and reports directly to the chairman and CEO. Under that council, we maintain four regional giving councils to engage local programs and team members; implementing these regional groups has significantly increased our volunteer efforts. And at the grassroots level, 800 giving “Community Service Program Leaders” drive business unit-, site- or country-specific signature programs — instrumental to bringing our programs to life around the world.

  • Virtual volunteer opportunities. One of our signature giving programs, the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, requires thousands of hours every year in mentorship and judging to help student entrepreneurs hone their ideas for social good and turn them into viable businesses. The majority of this work is done online via www.dellchallenge.org; enabling our team members to help students halfway around the world from their desks. Last year, more than 1,000 Dell team members participated.

    As we build our skills-based volunteering capability, team members can connect with charities in need of copy writing, web development and projects that can be done virtually — even using language skills through global projects such as DSIC.

Reframing Community Service – and Employee Engagement

These and other efforts have transformed our collective thinking about community service. Our team volunteerism at Dellmembers are helping young cancer patients in France use technology to stay in touch with loved ones, mentoring underserved children in computer labs, even helping the Red Cross use social media to better target humanitarian aid. For this fiscal year, we’ve set a goal of 750,000 hours and maintaining at least 50 percent team member participation.

But these initiatives also have a direct impact on our business. Why maintain a healthy employee engagement program?

  • Employees want it. Millennials who frequently volunteer are more loyal, proud of their employer and satisfied with their career trajectory. In Dell’s experience, our recruitment team tells us that the second most popular question young prospective Dell team members ask is, “What are you doing around corporate responsibility?”

  • A formal program is expected. An innovative program can be a competitive advantage. Roughly 85 percent of companies have a formal domestic volunteer program; however, less than half have a formal international program. By staying on top of volunteerism trends, Dell can offer an important team member incentive that other companies may not provide. According to our internal tracking, the attrition rate for team members involved in community service is significantly lower than Dell’s overall attrition.

  • Dell’s volunteers are also ambassadors for Dell’s brand. The top reason companies offer volunteering programs is to improve public relations, branding and reputation, according to the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. Our team members are good people doing good work in their communities, and we’re proud to say they represent Dell.

Deb Bauer is director of giving at Dell; reach her @DebBatDell. Jenn Friday Jones oversees Dell’s team member engagement programs; reach her at @JennFridayJones. Learn more about Dell’s programs at www.dell.com/communities.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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