Corporations assume that employer-sponsored volunteerism programs keep employees engaged while also making a difference to the social organizations they serve. And that's true, but there's more to the story. What is it that makes a corporate citizenship program most effective in terms of employee satisfaction and community impact?
In my previous role as Deloitte's Chief Talent Officer, I witnessed first-hand how important volunteerism was to our people. They would often return to the office after working in an adult literacy program or at a community school seeming renewed and sharing stories of their service. Yet, as an inherently left-brain organization, we wanted hard proof that our programs were delivering results. With this in mind, we surveyed hundreds of our employees. They told us "skills-based" volunteerism that leverages an individual's particular strengths and interests was more rewarding than traditional programs that offer a generic opportunity to help. Furthermore, we learned that this mode of giving delivers a greater impact to the community because it helps fill critical capability gaps in nonprofits.
A skills-based, or pro bono, approach is about donating skills, not just money. We set people up to use their area of expertise, be it strategy, accounting, operations, technology, finance, or human resources. For example, if a nonprofit is experiencing an issue with hiring, we provide human capital consultants to help them revamp their process. Matching the strengths of employees with the specific needs of nonprofits changes philanthropy from passive and episodic to active and ongoing. And it evokes pride and engagement in ways that writing checks alone never can.
Our professionals cite pro bono engagements not only as critical to their job satisfaction and skills development but also among the best experiences they've had at Deloitte. In fact, 76% of staff on pro bono projects stated that they gained significant, job-relevant skills. Additionally, they report that they are better able to build relationships with current and future clients who share a mutual interest in the causes we support.
Lilly Miskimmin, an infrastructure operations manager based in San Francisco, worked on a pro bono project for four San Jose nonprofits as they and the City of San Jose assessed operating subsidies and facility agreements, "Using your skills in these projects makes you feel like the work is going to have a much greater impact," she says, noting that the operating and real estate data she (and others) collected reinforced for the city the immense value the organizations brought to the local community. "I want to feel like I'm giving back, but I also want to use my business background."
It's clear to us that skills-based volunteering makes a difference in attracting and retaining employees, especially Millennials, who more than other generations look for purpose in their work. Among Millennials who work at Deloitte, 70% of those polled said they favor companies committed to giving, and even 61% of non-volunteers said they consider a company's community involvement when evaluating job offers. Likewise, our summer interns tell us that they factor engagement with the community into their employment decisions.
To reap these benefits, corporations need to take pro bono work seriously. At Deloitte, we treat these projects exactly the same as a paid client engagement. When we take on a new project, we staff it based on skills, we give it a work order code, and we hold our people to the same standards and expectations as we would on any other engagement. This model enables our professionals to share their skills in a meaningful way. It also ensures that nonprofits get high-quality assistance from a committed organization.
The value of these projects goes beyond talent retention and brand enhancement for Deloitte. The nonprofits we work with also cite significant gains. Fully 68% classified the organizational capacity gains provided by our pro bono volunteers as "transformational." Many nonprofits are very sophisticated when it comes to social issues, but even the best struggle with internal capacity and capability. They need help with financial management, marketing, product development, service delivery, and technology. They're looking for partners to help solve large, complex problems — and that's what many large companies do best.
A skills-based approach also allows companies to collaborate and network with other businesses to solve our world's most pressing social issues. For example, creating a "pro bono marketplace" would allow nonprofits to tap into the much-needed services and expertise that we, as corporations, have in spades and often take for granted. Consistent with the mission of A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize companies to develop pro bono volunteer opportunities, any individual company can make a difference — but 500 companies, working side-by-side can change entire communities.
In order to engage their people, and make a difference in the world, businesses and nonprofits need to change the way they think about corporate philanthropy. They need to think beyond financial terms. Companies have other valuable assets to offer, particularly the skills and knowledge of their people.
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