Emotion key to corporate volunteering
We all know that corporate volunteering is good for communities, good for companies and good for employees. With all the good that comes from it, why do I keep hearing about the not so good side of employee giving like nightmare-ish stories of 50 employees showing up for a day-long community clean only to find out that the charity forgot they were coming. Or employees being tasked with painting a wall that doesn’t need painting. More familiar yet, countless stories of employees waiting around with nothing to do. Worst of all, the guilt that comes from feeling like the charity had to put together something to entertain your team, not address a social issue.
For the past 18 months, I’ve been hearing the same questions at conferences, client meetings and corporate roundtables – how can we better engage our employees in giving back? My sense was that the whole model of employee engagement needed to be blown up and rethought.
To get to some answers, Manifest hosted a focus group of some of Canada’s leading corporate citizens to explore current volunteer models – from team walks/runs/bikes to group clean up days. The goal was to better understand what’s working, what needs improvement and what an ideal program should look like.
To be perfectly honest, I thought I knew what the outcome was going to be – that there was a growing shift away from the softer stuff (like community clean ups) toward more concrete initiatives (like skills-based volunteering). My sense was that corporations were increasingly looking for more professionalized opportunities that would better lever their functional areas of expertise. Think a bank giving financial planning advice to food bank clients or a food manufacturer helping a seniors centre rethink its food sourcing/planning to a technology firm offering communications consulting to a help line.
But boy, was I wrong. Very, very wrong. Turns out it’s not a matter of what you do that matters. Rather, the single most defining feature of a successful employee engagement program is the emotional connection to the cause. And all volunteering efforts can be successful – from sorting food to cleaning up parks to volunteering on a board to overhauling a revenue generation plan – as long as there is an opportunity for employees to feel something. These feelings can range from feeling grateful to inspired to proud and from strong to energized to alive. Bottom line: emotional engagement wins the day for employees.
To learn more about the findings and recommendations for building emotional engagement, please visit download here.