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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an idea that corporations have to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and ecological considerations in all
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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2007 : CSR

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Volunteerism & The Bottom Line
With the help of software products and fresh perspectives, volunteer programs are maturing into an integral part of any forward-looking CSR program.

by Peter Asmus


Deep down we’ve always known that there is business value in employee engagement programs, even if the individual does not directly participate in volunteer activities. But the evidence was always anecdotal,” stated Carrie Varoquiers, director of community relations for McKesson Corp., echoing the view held by many corporate managers over the years. “The idea of corporate volunteer programs being a sound investment seemed to be true, but without hard data it was really tough to ask for more money to implement volunteer projects.”

Today, with the help of software products and fresh perspectives on creative ways to reduce company risks, volunteer programs are maturing into an integral part of any forward-looking CSR program.

“In the past, these activities were seen as something warm and fuzzy, but there was no measurable business value,” Varoquiers continued. “New software products helped make our volunteer program a professional operation by providing data when there was none before,” she said.

While acknowledging that “we cannot prove that our volunteer programs are responsible for this high approval rating, we now have data to support our gut feelings that volunteerism—like diversity and good corporate citizenship—all add to the bottom line,” she said.

The Increasing Scope of Volunteerism
Just what is the dollar value of these corporate volunteer activities? Conservative estimates put these investments at a value of more than $15 billion across the S&P 500 last year. “Aligning these investments with broader corporate strategies, whether geographic, demographic or product-related, and managing these investments more carefully will create far more bona-fide business value for companies than they currently create through their traditional and often unfocused and uncoordinated philanthropic programs,” said Andy Mercy, CEO of AngelPoints, Inc., the market leader on volunteer management software systems with a database of more than 2.5 million corporate volunteers.

Some firms, such as Oracle, have developed their own homegrown computerized tracking and management systems, but a whole new cottage industry is springing up to provide these more sophisticated services to the corporate sector. The top competitors to AngelPoints, Inc. are nonprofits such as VolunteerMatch.com and 1-800-Volunteer.org, the latter an online service provided by the Points of Light Foundation.

A study published by the Points of Light Foundation and co-funded by Deloitte revealed that 77 percent of nonprofit leaders believe that skilled volunteers from the private sector could significantly improve their business practices, yet only 12 percent of these nonprofits put volunteers to work on these types of assignments. On top of that, the same survey found that 40 percent of volunteers now want to apply their professional work skills to the gigs they sign up for, signaling a strategic shift in the way employees are approaching calls to volunteer.

“We had more than 500 projects in 100 cities,” Hochberg said. “This year, our focus was to re-position our volunteer efforts to get the greatest impact, and to focus on our core competency: our business knowledge about how to run a strong company. So, we did not just look for hands-on activities—a park clean-up—but projects that took advantage of our employees’ business knowledge.”

Among the other lessons learned at Deloitte is that one size doesn’t fit all. “We operate in 70 different cities, and every one of these communities has unique needs,” Hochberg said. “Our employees want to get involved with some causes and passions that impacted their life. Some corporations want to focus on a single issue for the company. Not here at Deloitte, where the lesson we’ve learned is to allow for flexibility.” The two primary changes made recently to its volunteer programs are less emphasis on volume, and more attention to a competency-based approach, using the expertise of Deloitte to solve business problems for nonprofit organizations.

And while one rationale for better tracking and management systems is to help build the business case for volunteerism, Hochberg noted that Deloitte does not see the need to isolate and measure the benefits of volunteerism in order to tie these ventures to its bottom line. “We know from anecdotes that our volunteer programs help with reputation and recruitment,” he said. “I’m extremely excited about our corporate volunteer program. I report directly to the executive committee to discuss and refine our volunteer programs focused on the issue of community involvement. Our volunteer program is now getting this level of recognition and support from upper management.”

Leading Firms Showing the Way
“ Sun Microsystems valued the idea of corporate volunteering before it was en vogue,” said Mary Smaragdis, acting executive director of the Sun Foundation. “It started at a grassroots level. When it became apparent to upper management that employees wanted—and valued—a corporate volunteer program, a more formal program was organized.”

Smaragdis went on to note that Sun was able to achieve its goal of reaching employees all over the world with its new software system. “Before AngelPoints, Sun did not have the bandwidth to support employees in all the countries where we live and work,” she said. “But by partnering with AngelPoints, employees are now able to post their own projects, manage other volunteers and then track their own volunteer hours—all over the globe.”

Interestingly enough, companies that rely on state-of-the-art software management systems for volunteer programs—among them General Electric—have dramatically outperformed the Dow Jones and S&P 500 over the past 10 years, but most notably in the last four years, when these volunteer programs shifted into a higher gear. Obviously, many other factors come into play, but it is interesting to note that the current client base of AngelPoints outperformed the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 by 136 percent and by 149 percent, respectively, over the past decade.

Once volunteer hours are tabulated and shaped by corporate strategies and managed by state-of-the-art software programs, participation among the workforce skyrockets. For example, when AAA of northern California, Nevada and Utah implemented AngelPoints’ Enterprise Volunteer Solutions software package, the company’s volunteer program experienced triple-digit increases in volunteers. In fact, more than half of employees now log into the system every day, looking for fun and rewarding volunteer opportunities.

Peter Asmus is an expert on CSR. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor and Washington Post.
SILICON VALLEY'S TAKE ON PHILANTHROPY
One unique example of how new start-ups in Silicon Valley are improving the effectiveness of corporate philanthropy such as volunteerism is The Entrepreneurs Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the ties between entrepreneurial companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and the communities in which they operate and where their employees reside, both here and abroad.

This, in a nutshell, is the concept of The Entrepreneurs Foundation: Each company donates a percentage of stock shares to set up a philanthropic program. When these firms go public, they then immediately have the cash to create their own stand-alone foundations. This unique approach to philanthropy demonstrates a rare example of cooperation among pre-IPO start-ups as well as large companies competing in the increasingly tight hi-tech space. But in this case, these normally combative firms are relying upon the same software to network and foster community-based volunteerism in new research and development offshore operations in India, China and eastern Europe.

The Entrepreneurs Foundation enables companies to incorporate corporate citizenship, community involvement and philanthropy into their corporate culture. Since its inception, more than 140 companies have joined The Entrepreneurs Foundation and contributed more than $4.4 million to support philanthropy in the San Francisco Bay Area, matching nearly 10,000 employees with more than a hundred nonprofit community organizations.

Here are a few other examples of what Silicon Valley firms are doing harnessing the force of IT to better the world:

• Adobe Systems has extended its activities to its recently established offices in India—ensuring that “offshore” locations receive the same level of funding and focus on CSR as the U.S. and European communities.

• Cisco Systems has partnered with a Seattle-based nonprofit to provide voicemail services for the homeless. (It is awfully hard to find a job when you are without a phone!) This voicemail program has recently been expanded across the United States, and Cisco is now looking at taking it overseas.

• Salesforce.com has given its software to more than 1,000 nonprofits, enabling these NGOs to track and manage their donor base in a more sophisticated and efficient fashion. The Salesforce.com model of “1/1/1” (1 percent equity, 1 percent volunteer time, 1 percent products donated) has now been adopted by Google.

Another advantage of participating in The Entrepreneurs Foundation effort is the free use of AngelPoints software to identify and track volunteer opportunities that align with each company ’s social vision and values.


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