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It was over twenty-seven years ago that I began my journey connecting corporate employees with community needs. Every day, after climbing four flights of stairs to my desk at the New York Cares office above the nail salon, I inspired others to take action. It was an exciting time of innovation and discovery, further energized by President Bush’s Points of Light vision and call for a new wave of citizen and corporate service in America.  The employee volunteerism movement took off, continuously gaining traction over the next three decades.

Unfortunately, along the journey, many corporate service programs got sidetracked by the urge to “count.” Parts of our movement veered toward creating outputs – number of hours, number of employees, number of events – versus toward the creation of real human and business outcomes. A trend I call “service for service sake.”

Today, the most sophisticated and pioneering companies are driving toward impact. This wave is coming on fast and furious. According to CECP 2014 research, 78% of companies now have a formal volunteer program, and 50% of companies have a pro-bono volunteer program, up from 30% just three years ago. Powered by social media and a new generation of employees seeking to work at companies that share their higher “purpose,” there are hundreds of companies looking at employee engagement with a fresh eye, or for the very first time.  We have the opportunity and responsibility to steer this new, explosive wave of corporate service.

Today, we must make employee engagement work even harder to create more value for community beneficiaries, corporate employees, and businesses. We must focus on creating outcomes, not only outputs. Here are three things we can do as we chart the future of employee service:

Impact Beneficiaries.  Find more effective ways to use our resources and expertise to truly impact lives, versus just providing a quick fix.  How can skills-based and pro-bono volunteerism be even more solution-driven?  Guided by their Credo, over the past ten years Johnson & Johnson Vision Care employees have provided eye screenings to more than 16 million kids in Asia, identifying and addressing easily-correctable disorders that cause visual impairment and blindness. And, through the leadership of Billion+ Change we see thousands of companies committing to think differently about impact through skilled service.

Impact Employees.  We’ve known forever that volunteers benefit from volunteering, but it is time to be even more deliberate. How can we better link employee experiences in the community to professional development and growth that is good for the individual and the company?  By sitting down one-on-one with lower-income food and beverage small business owners during Brewing the American Dream Speed Coaching volunteer events, Samuel Adams employees practice how to listen, coach, and teach.  At Deloitte, pro-bono assignments deliver deep social issue experience and professional development.

Impact Business.  We’ve talked for years about how employee engagement can provide permission to operate, enhance reputation, increase pride, and improve recruitment. Now is the time to be more intentional. We must align employee engagement with brand, corporate responsibility, and other business plans, applying it as a core business success strategy, not an add on. Aramark closely aligns volunteerism with its business mission, strengths and strategies.  And, even after its acquisition, service continues to be a core part of the Timberland’s global DNA and success.

As we lead this wave of corporate service in America, we have the opportunity and responsibility to be bold; to more effectively transform human capital into impact.

Mark Feldman is the Founder and Managing Director of Cause Consulting, a business strategy and communications firm the helps companies to simultaneously strengthen business and impact society. mfeldman@causeconsulting.com

Blog also featured on Point’s of Light Institute, A Billion + Change

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