Why Nonprofit-Centered Corporate Volunteering Matters

Volunteers unloading supplies from a truck.

When an authentic connection is made between the volunteer and the nonprofit that is when the magic happens – improved employee morale and real impact for the nonprofit. (Photo © Joel Muniz)

In my six years leading corporate volunteering programs for hundreds of employees, I have seen many of my past volunteers retain strong connections with their nonprofit partner—even years after the project—with a handful of them joining the nonprofit’s board or helping out with fundraising during the pandemic. Several studies (Clary et al., 1998, Musik and Wilson 2008) and anecdotal evidence collected by Tides suggest that social impact is one of the main reasons why employees participate in corporate volunteering programs. When an authentic connection is made between the volunteer and the nonprofit that is when the magic happens – improved employee morale and real impact for the nonprofit. 

The Many Benefits of Corporate Volunteerism 

Companies understand that corporate volunteerism programs have multiple benefits, including increased recruitment, retention, and employee morale. According to the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, ninety-three percent of employees who volunteer through their company report being happy with their employer; seventy percent of employees think volunteer opportunities boost morale more than company mixers, based on a 2017 Deloitte Volunteerism Survey; and ninety percent of human resources professionals confirm that pro bono volunteering is an effective way to develop leadership skills, according to a study from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business

So how do companies develop a successful corporate volunteering program? Authenticity. According to a 2015 Cone Global CSR survey, eighty-four percent of consumers confirm that they seek out products from responsible companies whenever possible. On the flip side, ninety percent of consumers would boycott a company if they learned of irresponsible or deceptive business practices. Similar to being truthful with consumers, it is important for companies to offer a genuine corporate volunteerism program for employees. When companies are singularly focused on their employees when designing their volunteer programs, they might miss the mark for fulfilling employees’ underlying motivation to participate in these programs—the desire to connect with the nonprofit sector and make a difference. 

Impacts of the Pandemic, and where Corporate Volunteerism Fits In 

Volunteer unboxing surgical masks, showing the recent need and impact of the pandemic on nonprofits.

Volunteer programs coupled with financial support can help mitigate some of the challenges nonprofits are facing during these challenging times. (Photo © Alex Mecl)

The pandemic and the concurrent economic instability have left the nonprofit sector in a state of crisis. According to the Nonprofit Finance Fund survey, fifty-six percent of nonprofits are facing a shortage of staff. Over seventy percent of nonprofits have seen a significant reduction in the contributions they receive, based on a CAF America survey, and almost fifteen percent of organizations were forced to suspend their operations. Building Movement Project’s latest report states that “[n]ot surprisingly, [people of color]-led nonprofits, which tend to be smaller, less resourced, and community-based, face an even more challenging set of circumstances. Their very survival—and that of the communities who rely on them—is at stake.”

Volunteer programs coupled with financial support can help mitigate some of the challenges nonprofits are facing during these challenging times. But how do companies design an authentic corporate responsibility program that can fulfill their employees’ desire for social impact, while centering nonprofits’ needs during these challenging times? For authentic relationships in corporate social impact, we at Tides believe it is important to start with practices that move towards a trust-based and equal partnership that centers the leadership and expertise of the nonprofit. 

Trust, Listen, Acknowledge, Include 

Below are some of the principles we abide by at Tides when designing volunteer programs: 

  • Trust the leadership of people with lived experiences in the communities they serve. We believe in supporting people who have lived experiences. Tides facilitated a group of grassroots leaders and issue experts to select nonprofits that are led by people with lived experiences to receive funding from GitHub. This process resulted in five grassroots nonprofits receiving funding and pro bono support, and is in contrast to the more common practice of relying solely on employees to nominate nonprofits for corporate funding, or going to larger, more recognizable nonprofits. GitHub’s grant was the first grant from a corporate funder, opening up opportunities for them to attract additional funding. Thanks to the grant, one nonprofit was able to hire its first full-time paid staff, while another hired two legal attorneys.
  • Listen deeply to nonprofits’ needs. Nonprofits operate in a different context to for-profit companies. Therefore, it is important to build trust and to empathetically understand the nonprofit’s needs. With our collaboration with GitHub’s pro bono project, we listened to what efforts would benefit the nonprofits and engaged GitHub’s own employees on pro bono projects with the nonprofits. For engagements outside of GitHub employees’ skill sets, GitHub hired consultants with lived experience to implement projects. 
  • Acknowledge staff time that corporate volunteering projects take. Often nonprofit staff time is judged differently compared to for-profit employees time due to a focus on reducing nonprofit’s overhead costs. We believe it is important to acknowledge nonprofit staff time that corporate volunteering projects require. When Tides helped PagerDuty design pro bono engagements with three health-related nonprofits, we were intentionally respectful of the nonprofit staff time. As a result of the eight-week projects with PagerDuty employees, Trek Medics International improved its incident response system for 911 alerts in underserved communities; Nexleaf Analytics analyzed electricity outages in rural clinics in Kenya; and International Medical Corps designed a communication alert system for first responders. 
  • Include financial support with volunteer programs. Providing unrestricted financial contributions supports nonprofits’ work. For both PagerDuty and GitHub projects, the pro bono programs included grants to the nonprofits. In addition, GitHub paid an honorarium to the grassroots leaders and issue experts who participated in GitHub’s participatory grantmaking process, honoring the time they spent identifying impactful nonprofits. 
A set of volunteer hands over food supplies. Packing for giveaways and donations.

Trust the leadership of people with lived experiences in the communities they serve. (Photo © Joel Muniz)

The above examples demonstrate how nonprofit-centered corporate volunteering can be authentic, impactful, and collaborative to both employees and the nonprofits. Some questions to consider when you are designing or revamping your employee engagement programs include:

  • Are you lifting up the voices of people with lived experiences? 
  • What are some critical needs of the nonprofit you could help prioritize? 
  • Are there other company resources you could consider to enhance your pro bono program and bolster results?

Share your thoughts and insights at [email protected], and join us at our first Impact Hour on May 6th,12PM PST, when we’ll answer these questions in more depth with our guest speaker, Admas Kanyagia, Head of Social Impact at GitHub.

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