The CSR Scoop - 8/26/2015

Aug 26, 2015 4:45 PM ET

We are going back to our roots this week and talking about our raison d’être: skills-based volunteering. Common Impact has been in this line of work for fifteen years and in that time we’ve seen a true evolution in corporations’ and nonprofits’ understanding of pro bono work. We’re thrilled to see both sides coming around to the bottom line benefits of skills-based volunteer engagements and we’re excited by the innovative new variations on the skills-based model that are cropping up each day. For those skeptics who have yet to be convinced of the power of pro bono, we think that this week’s persuasive Scoop should provide ample proof of the layered and bilateral benefits that skills-based volunteering affords.

The Scoop:

Skills-based volunteering is reaching epic proportions. While all corporate volunteering is on the rise, the most significant increase among all types of volunteer programs is in pro-bono (now present in 40% to 51% of companies). CSRAsia put together a great pro bono business case that collates the results of numerous studies to show the tangible, measurable business value of skills-based volunteering. We think the numbers speak for themselves:

  • A recent study by economists at the University of Southhampton showed that working to benefit a good cause increases productivity by up to 30%.
  • Deloitte’s 2011 Volunteer IMPACT Survey found a strong link between an employee’s participation in workplace volunteer activities and her or his perceptions of positive workplace culture. Millennials who volunteer are nearly twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as very positive, to be proud of where they work, and to feel great loyalty to their company.
  • The majority of HR executives in a recent Deloitte Impact Study now look for job candidates with skills-based volunteering experience. Conversely, candidates are more likely to accept a position if they hear about the company’s involvement in cause-related work.

Last week, the internet was abuzz with discussions about the recent New York Times exposé of the cutthroat, toxic working environment of the ecommerce titan, One of our favorite contributions to the discussion came from CauseCast’s Ryan Scott. Scott notes a correlation between the employee maltreatment revealed in the exposé and Amazon’s broader pattern of low community engagement and philanthropic involvement. He contends that empowering its employees as brand ambassadors within their communities could build up both internal and external good will, inspiriting Amazon’s employees through growth opportunities and positive community experiences and improving its damaged PR.

“A company that sees its communities as people first, customers second, can recognize how employees can connect and serve communities in ways that deepen relationships all around…Far from sacrificing its competitive edge, Amazon would win even bigger if it learned how to weave a spirit of purpose, philanthropy and civic engagement into its culture.”

Study after study shows millennials as the face of skills-based volunteering. The combination of a millennial preference for hands-on, purposeful work and the recent proliferation of pro bono opportunities has resulted in this generation participating in skills-based initiatives more than any other before them. We see this trend reflected in The Millennial Impact Report, a multi-year, comprehensive study of how the millennial generation connects with, gets involved with, and supports causes. The report not only reflects a strong millennial preference for this type of volunteering, but also identifies a number of more specific inclinations within this preference. We’ve commented on just a few of the highlights:

  • Millennial employees prefer volunteering and doing cause work with employees in their same department (62 percent) rather than employees in the company they don’t directly work with. (2014). This points to the team-building potential of skills-based volunteering initiatives. Colleagues test their collaboration outside of the office, adapt to new roles to uncover new skills in themselves and their colleagues, and achieve a collective sense of accomplishment. To this point, we often hear corporations boasting tremendous success after assigning pro bono projects to newly-composed teams or in preparation for a big internal assignment.
  • Volunteers are eager to learn from their nonprofit partners. Therefore, it is important to provide them with exposure to their nonprofit professional counterparts or to the leadership team. As one survey participant said, “I would volunteer a lot more if I was able to connect with higher-up staff members in the organization. Often, though, you don’t meet anyone except the volunteer coordinator.” (2013)
  • When volunteering, participants tend to be more interested in intrinsic benefits, such as networking (51 percent) and gaining professional expertise (61 percent), than in tangible discounts or gifts. Nonprofits and corporations, take note! Consider how you can entice employees to participate in volunteer initiatives not through material incentives but, rather, by structuring them as effective talent development opportunities.

“Today's most innovative companies want to promote people that are initiators, collaborators, and trusted by their peers. They need people who are capable of leading in increasingly competitive and ambiguous environments, and who can solve complex-problems along the way.”

These are not easy skills to develop, particularly within the constraints of a hierarchical corporation or rigid job responsibilities. Mark Horoszowski spotlights skills-based volunteering as a career-building tool that provides employees with the leadership experience they need to secure promotions and makes the world a better place in the process.


"Emerging talent" is a hot topic that organizations have to act upon in order to meet the demands of a quickly changing business world. At the workshop, How to Build a Talent Discovery Program for Your Organization, attendees will explore what skills are needed for the work place of tomorrow and assess their own organizations for skills gaps and talent potential.
September 10-11, San Diego, CA

Over the past two decades, funders and policymakers have put more pressure on nonprofit organizations to pursue and achieve measurable outcomes. For nonprofit professionals, that trend raises troubling questions: What if the ways that your organization makes a difference in people’s lives are not easily measured through conventional performance metrics? What if the logic model of your organization does not fully account for the value that you deliver through direct work with beneficiaries?  Funders and policymakers also face a quandary: What if the performance data that you receive do not adequately capture the effectiveness of the nonprofits that you fund? Tackle these questions and more at SSIR’s webinar, Valuing Frontline Work.
September 23, Online

Are you accountable for your company’s employee engagement, corporate responsibility, philanthropy, or employee engagement? If so, join Charities@Work at their Summit on Employee Engagement and Corporate Citizenship to hear from leading experts about the trends and opportunities available to drive greater ROI from your charitable and employee engagement programs.
September 24, Mountain View, CA