Most companies have long engaged their employees in some form of volunteerism, often with loosely defined goals around making a positive impact in their local communities. In today’s business environment more and more companies are looking to build volunteer initiatives that leverage the unique skills and expertise of their employees. It’s another strong example of how leading businesses are integrating their CSR strategy and their business strategy to drive success.
There’s good reason for this shift—the business case for skills-based volunteering is well documented. Plus, this approach brings meaningful benefits for employees as well as community partners.
Now that corporate leaders generally understand why a skills-based program is necessary and valuable, employee engagement professionals should focus on educating ourselves and our colleagues about how to move from a traditional corporate volunteer program to a skills-based program.
Making this transition is no small task, especially for large corporations. At Prudential, we recently completed year one of a multi-year plan to integrate skills-based and pro bono volunteering across our business. Although we still have a long way to go before this strategy is fully implemented, we have already learned valuable lessons that any corporate engagement professional would be wise to keep in mind. Here are our top five:
- Start small. Focus on launching a single pilot program rather than trying to force rapid, company-wide change. Doing so provides the opportunity to stay closely involved with the effort and to build proof points along the way. Then, when it comes time to scale the effort, you’ll have the buy-in, experience and know-how to ensure your approach will succeed.
- Be strategic. The most successful and sustainable programs not only match employees’ skills to a demonstrated need, but also advance corporate priorities. For example, Prudential employees have provided pro bono business consulting to small businesses in our hometown of Newark. This approach aligns with our priority of helping make Newark a more vibrant place to live and work—which is critical to our talent recruitment and retention goals. And an added benefit – being strategic also adds credibility and authenticity to the program among both internal and external audiences.
- Recruit the right employees. Although a long-term programmatic goal may be to engage a large percentage of employees in a skills-based program, your pilot will be most successful if you are selective about whom to engage. Work with your human resources department to identify and recruit a group of high-performing, high-potential and engaged staff to participate. Being invited to participate in a special opportunity will serve as a motivating factor for participants and will build interest in serving in future programs in both ambassador and leadership capacities.
- Learn from your missteps. The only real guarantee when launching an ambitious new approach is that you will make mistakes. And that’s OK. Learning from the shortcomings of your pilot program is required if you are to succeed in the long-term. Embrace the opportunity to identify issues and then build solutions into your program before expanding it.
- Celebrate successes. Getting the necessary buy-in to scale your approach requires communicating the pilot program’s achievements, no matter how small. And do so in a personal way, recognizing the important role that specific employees played in making the program a success. Robust internal communications are essential to building and sustaining employee engagement at all levels.
Every company, no matter the size, has unique skills and expertise that can help create a positive social impact in the community. Implementing such a program is a significant and challenging undertaking, but keeping a few key insights in mind will ensure the successful implementation of an authentic, scalable and impactful skills-based pro bono volunteer program.
Join me at the Charities@Work Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship March 23-25 in New York City. For more information, go to www.charitiesatwork.org