Every company wants to achieve sustainability in their operations, performance, and the value they deliver to stakeholders. When most people hear the term sustainability in relation to environmental, social, and governance (ESG), they think of environmental sustainability. However, social sustainability, which refers to companies recognizing and addressing the positive and negative effects they have on individuals and communities, carries equal importance. While it may be easier to benchmark and organize KPIs around environmental impact and governance, social sustainability can be much tougher to measure, advance, and report on, in part due to the many considerations that fall under the “S” in ESG, from labor laws and employee health and wellness to community engagement, volunteerism, and DE&I.
Celebrating National Volunteer Month, or Volunteer Appreciation Month is one way to express gratitude to the millions of people who volunteer their time and talent annually to support their communities. It’s also an excellent opportunity to reflect on the different ways that volunteerism impacts communities, advances social sustainability for organizations, and helps employees thrive and meet their potential.
Building Stronger Communities Through Volunteerism
According to the U.S. Census Bureau and AmeriCorps, between September 2020 and 2021, more than 60 million people (roughly 23% of Americans) formally volunteered, contributing an estimated 4.1 billion hours valued at $122.9 billion. During this period, an additional 124 million people informally supported their neighbors and communities. These volunteers address critical challenges and needs in underserved communities that haven’t been met, while simultaneously supplementing nonprofit teams who rely heavily on volunteers to carry out their missions.
Going beyond the transactional impact of volunteerism on community organizations and those they serve, there’s also an opportunity for volunteering to be transformative. Transformative volunteering refers to the change that occurs in the volunteer themselves, rather than just the exchange of time or resources. For nonprofit organizations that rely on volunteers and donations, there’s a hope that engaging employee volunteers in transformative experiences will result in a stronger bond between them and their employer. Whether that means a continuous pipeline of volunteers from that company, the recruitment of community advocates, or a new stream of valuable resources such as skills-based volunteers or donations, connecting with corporate volunteers is essential to the success of the critical initiatives these nonprofit organizations lead.
Advancing Organizational Success and Sustainability
For organizations, volunteerism offers numerous benefits. Some business leaders may make the mistake of assuming that employees who volunteer during business hours hurt their bottom line, hindering productivity and profit. This could not be farther from the truth. Companies and the communities they serve benefit when their workforce is strategically engaged in their social impact efforts, with employees often acting as the glue between the organization and the community. It is important to remember that building a strong corporate volunteer program is a long-term investment. Companies that engage in authentic volunteerism and prioritize social sustainability can reinforce their brand identity, better align their employees with their purpose, and strengthen community relationships.
From a workforce development perspective, volunteer opportunities – whether transactional or transformative – support the upskilling of employees, creating unique opportunities for growth, leadership, and mentoring, which in turn increases their value to the organization. This is particularly evident with skills-based volunteer initiatives, where organizations activate the talents of their workforce in support of community organizations. According to research from True Impact, skills-based volunteer projects help build new, job-related skills and experiences at 95 percent the rate of traditional volunteer projects.
Companies with strong corporate volunteer programs also have a greater ability to recruit and retain top talent, especially with the growing demand from the workforce for companies to positively impact society as supported by a recent survey conducted by Porter Novelli, where 93 percent of employees agreed that companies must lead with purpose. As more employees seek meaning and impact in their jobs, it is imperative for leaders to connect purpose-driven work with employee engagement.
Inevitably, there is also the public relations lens that needs to be considered. Employee volunteering helps organizations address the ever-increasing need for businesses to have a positive impact in their local community, publicly taking the lead on pressing societal issues. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review states that corporate social responsibility is responsible for more than 40 percent of an organization’s reputation. Considering that employee volunteerism should be viewed as an investment in brand awareness and identity, customer loyalty, and community relations.
The Employee Perspective
Employees shape company culture, carry out the mission, and embody core values. An effective approach to ESG requires support at all levels of the organization by a culture that champions those initiatives. For employees, along with upskilling, volunteering has been shown to boost workplace satisfaction and purpose. In a 2017 Deloitte survey, 70 percent of respondents indicated that volunteering provided them with an improved sense of purpose and increased morale, while 77 percent noted volunteering as essential to their well-being.
Deloitte’s Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey found that the current workforce of Gen Z and Millennials recognizes the importance of balancing their work lives with a desire for making a positive impact on society. They are inclined towards organizations that provide them with the opportunity to contribute to their community. In return, they will demonstrate an increased level of dedication towards their organization and colleagues, providing significant avenues for progress and advancement for all parties involved.
Along those same lines, engaging in volunteer work can have a positive impact on one’s physical and mental well-being, reduce stress, and increase workplace satisfaction and purpose. A contributing element to this increased workplace satisfaction is the opportunity to collaborate and build meaningful relationships with colleagues. True Impact, a social impact measurement platform, conducted research on the internal and external benefits of volunteering. The data they gathered from Fortune 1000 companies indicated that 81 percent of employees reported that their volunteer experiences had a positive impact on their workplace relationships.
As National Volunteer Month winds down, it is important to reflect on the diverse ways in which corporate volunteerism can positively affect communities, employees, and businesses. With the growing demand from employees for companies to lead with purpose, the increased focus on employee wellbeing and development, and the ever-present need for organizations to connect with the communities they serve, directing resources and emphasizing the “S” in ESG – and more specifically on employee volunteerism – is an easy decision.
By encouraging active employee engagement and fostering a thriving culture, companies can implement a volunteer program to better align employees with their purpose and values, improve their brand identity, and advance positive outcomes in the communities they serve.