The CSR world often assumes that more is better when it comes to volunteering, as if more volunteering on paper equals more impact for employees. But the assumption in this equation is flawed. More doesn’t necessarily equal better. In fact, truly transformational corporate volunteering requires you to invert the equation. To be more impactful, sometimes you have to do less.
Jaimie Vargas, head of social impact at Electronic Arts, sketched out a blueprint you can follow for orchestrating volunteer programs that engage employees meaningfully and create a ripple effect of lasting, positive change for employees and community alike. Her insights shed light on how a shift from surface-level engagements to more profound, sustained interactions can lead to greater fulfillment from volunteering.
This transition is not about doing more, but about diving deeper, involving employees as co-creators in CSR strategy, and forming lasting relationships with the community.
Don’t ditch transactional work—use it as a stepping stone
Working towards more transformative corporate volunteering doesn’t mean abandoning transactional work outright. One-time volunteer experiences or giving campaigns can serve as crucial entry points, getting employees involved in CSR with as little friction as possible.
The key is accessibility. Entry-level volunteering provides an avenue for employees to try it out and experience firsthand the fulfillment and broader perspective that come with doing social good. These preliminary engagements are like the first rungs on the ladder, making the ascent towards more impactful, transformational volunteering feasible and less daunting.
Lead employees from one-off experiences toward sustained relationships
Building a path from transactional work to transformative corporate volunteering comes down to making a long-term commitment.
Vargas says the transition is about evolving from “one-off type engagements” to “pursuing opportunities where we make a sustained commitment over time.” Slowly work away from isolated events into a cohesive series of initiatives that connect with each other, and encourage long-term relationships with volunteering. This ensures that employees can engage continuously and meaningfully with their communities on a deeper level.
Transactional work gets your employees into the pool, but transformative work encourages them to learn to swim. The work done in the transactional phase acts as a springboard towards more substantial, transformative volunteering experiences.
Do fewer, but deeper volunteer events
When moving towards transformative work, do less, but more. Quality over quantity—do fewer events, but aim for high impact with every CSR initiative.
As Vargas says, “Ideally, if we’re helping people move to something that is more transformational, that may be doing fewer things, but in a deeper, high quality way.”
Transformative work leaves a lasting impact on the community and employee. As Chris Jarvis, co-founder of Realized Worth, says, the point of transformative work is to give people an experience that lasts a lifetime and influences the trajectory of their lives. But it takes a lot of effort to find and create those opportunities.
In practice, we can look at the work that Google.org did through its corporate volunteering program. As Jen Carter, head of technology and volunteering at Google.org, notes, when healthcare.gov crashed in 2013, engineers from Google and other tech companies volunteered to fix it.
“So that meant that tech folks saw the challenges and knew that their skill sets could help. But we knew that nonprofits and civic entities were facing these types of challenges every day,” Carter says. “And so we really started to think more strategically about how Google and Googlers could add the most value and really decided to lean into this pro-bono volunteering.”
This one-off event eventually inspired the founding of the Google.org Fellowship, which enables teams of Googlers to help nonprofits and civic organizations, at full-time pay for six months.
“Allowing employees to volunteer at this scale encourages authentic and long-term engagement, and enables employees to commit to the causes they care about,” says Carter.
It all comes down to finding the right opportunities that resonate with employees, which means that step one should always be to align yourself with employee care-abouts. From there, you can start to go deeper over time, to create more impactful events aligned with those missions.
Expect fewer line items on the spreadsheet
Transitioning from transactional to transformative work also necessitates a shift in how you measure the impact of corporate volunteering. Traditional metrics like a participation rate, number of CSR activities, or dollars donated may neither fully capture the quality of transformational work, nor the transformational moments that really matter.
This means you need to be ready to communicate upwards to executives and board members what transformative social impact may look like—fewer quantifiable metrics, and more qualitative ones. Measure success in stories over numbers, experiences over events.
“We have to be willing to take some risks, try some things out, and pilot and test,” says Vargas, “And be willing to accept that there may be fewer line items on the spreadsheet, but the end result may be more transformational and actually move the needle further in that larger outcome of what we want to achieve in the community.”
There’s not always a deadline or clear ROI on social impact. Transformative corporate volunteering instead creates ripple effects of deeper social change. It’s a picture that can’t always be captured by numbers on a spreadsheet, but can be painted by stories shared, experiences recounted, and community bonds strengthened.
Treat employees as co-creators
Employees are more than participants in your corporate volunteering program—they should be co-creators of the narrative your CSR strategy wants to tell.
“If we think about employees as being co-creators, builders, designers with social impact teams into how these programs take shape and how they’re executed and implemented, we want to build the capacity of employees to step up and want to engage in a deeper, perhaps more meaningful way,” says Vargas.
Tools like Submittable’s Volunteer and Give help manifest this co-creative ethos. They provide platforms for employees to initiate, design, and execute volunteering events that resonate with their values and the company’s broader CSR vision. With Submittable’s CSR software, you can make every employee an agent of social impact.
Make sure to provide volunteer time off (VTO) as a tangible demonstration that the company commits to helping employees give back. Offering VTO recognizes the value of volunteering, and gives employees the time and space to engage in social impact meaningfully.
However, you can’t force employees to participate in volunteering events. That stands in stark contrast to the idea of co-creation. Inspire action, instead of prescribing it. By promoting a culture of voluntary employee engagement, organizations can pave the way for employees to show up authentically and significantly.
For more insights on the role of CSR and how to craft a winning CSR strategy, check out the full episode with Vargas. Or, watch the full panel discussion of the leaders shaping the future of CSR as recorded at Impact Studio 2023.