CSR: Designing a Corporate Volunteer Program

Friday, October 27, 2006 0:31
Posted in category Invest in China, The Big Picture
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Corporate volunteerism relates to those community service initiatives planned, organized, funded and executed by employees and managers that seek to, among other things, generate specific benefits for the community and the participating company. Typically it involves the participation of senior managers, middle managers, and staff in planning and execution, and has attached to it some budget.

In developing corporate volunteer opportunities Over the last 2 years, there has been increased interest by local and international companies for employees. Typically community outreach programs were little more than a financial or in-kind donation to a GONGO organization (see NGOs in China Defined for understanding of GONGOs).

With many companies in China finally finding stability though, efforts can shift away from opening a factory, hiring a staff, licensing, logistics, etc… to giving back to the community.

As a the Vice Chair of AMCHAM’s CSR Committee and ED of Hands On Shanghai, I often meet with and speak to executives who are either preparing to construct their first program or are looking to expand an existing one.

Getting started is easy and requires a process of recognition and planning to ensure that stakeholders are identified and programs are planned to meet the needs of all the stakeholders involved (employees included).From the community perspective in China, there are a number of community that need assistance, and have organizations that have come together to assist them: Elderly Care, Orphan, Migrant Workers, Physically Disabled Children, Urban Poor, and others.

From the organizational perspective, the needs are: Improving Employee morale, improving inter-company relationships, increased brand awareness, increase connection and relationships to the community, etc.

Volunteer Match reported in a 2004 study that 5 of the most important KSFs are:
1) Senior Management Buy In 74%
2) Active, ongoing, internal communications 62%
3) Employee friendly programs and practices 62%
4) Dedicated Staff 53%
5) Dedicated Resources 51%

Keeping in mind the goals of the program, a process of volunteer team development and partner identification will then take place to build the core element of the program

Building a team is something that should be done carefully, and depending on the goals of the program, will be critical to the success of the program. First and foremost, management participation is a must as all stakeholders want to see that the organization as a whole is committed to the process (employees do not want to be shoveling concrete when their boss is behind the desk). The team should have a common bond and focus, remain consistent, have good potential to grow, and should be one that can spread the word throughout the organization.

On the program partner side, there are a lot of “standard” programs that already exist. Groups of 5-8 employees can visit an orphanage, spend the day collecting recycled phone books, or paint a children’s hospital. In general though, partners should offer the following to develop a long term and scalable relationship:
1) Programs should offer the ability to fulfill the goals of program
2) The partner has a good reputation and are considered trustworthy
3) The partner is one that employees will want to work with
4) Multilayered relationships are possible (should offer volunteer and donation)

In addition, finding a champion partner has been the focus of many organizations lately. With many new options, corporations are looking to move away from organizations where a lost logo is the norm. To create what many feel is a truly meaningful program, corporations are looking for partners that have little or no track record with other corporations, or are developing their own charities and organizations (Mary Kay’s victim abuse hotline).

Once a program is up and running, not only keeping it running, but scaling the program is critically important. Constant monitoring and review is critical in the process and gaining the insights of all stakeholders is important if a true review of a program is to occur. Understanding the real impact of on the community, employees, brand, etc are all important aspects that need to be understood to ensure proper tuning of the program can occur.

With many companies gaining stability in China, CSR programs will gain momentum. For many, one of the most public ways of showing off one’s CSR program is through its corporate outreach, and as seen at the 2006 AMCHAM CSR awards, some companies are making a real commitment to make a real difference in the community, and their corporate culture and brand are benefiting greatly from their committment.

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