Volunteerism Knows No Bounds

Every day, all over the world, tens of thousands of corporate employees volunteer their time, talent and energy to make a difference in the world. The practice of offering corporate volunteer programs has grown from a “nice-to- do” community relations effort into a globally recognized strategic asset that benefits society, the employees who volunteer, and the companies that encourage and support their work.

A 2015 study conducted by America’s Charities revealed that volunteerism is the core around which companies are building employee engagement strategies and programs. Volunteerism has become the onramp to full employee engagement and is highly valued by today’s senior corporate leaders.

Companies see the tangible benefits that volunteer programs bring such as increased commitment, stronger teamwork, higher employee morale, and stronger corporate brand and reputation. Recognizing the benefits of corporate volunteer programs, companies are looking for ideas and opportunities to take them to employees at all locations throughout the world.

While there are unique challenges to conducting an international volunteer program, the benefits far exceed the challenges. Many companies are overcoming the challenges and implementing effective global volunteer programs. Today, I want to offer some practical ideas to engage international employees in volunteer efforts.

Think Global, Volunteer Local

There are many opportunities to engage global employees in volunteer activities. The key is to think global but volunteer local. Adapt what you are currently doing within the U.S. to locations around the world. Be aware of cultural differences but keep in mind, most programs will resonate globally.

Here are some examples of what companies are doing to take their programs beyond borders and around the globe.

Establish local committees in key locations

around the world to identify and support volunteer projects. Employees act as ambassadors by encouraging other employees to participate. Use existing employee organizations such as affinity groups to help identify volunteer projects. Many of these groups already engage in volunteerism in their particular area of interest. Use these groups to provide a leadership structure and communications network to assist in promoting volunteerism.

International Volunteerism Good Done Great

Implement Global Days of Service

– these are becoming more common. Companies will designate time where employees unite with their colleagues in a company-wide initiative. These events can be one day or spread out over a week or a month. It is best for global companies to support a longer period of time where employees can engage to allow for flexibility and to accommodate the needs and culture of the local offices. According to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) about 30 percent of companies offer a company-wide Day of Service internationally.

General Mills conducts a global service initiative around Earth Day. The initiative focuses on hunger, nutrition and sustainability, and environmental community projects. In 2015, more than 2,000 General Mills employees from 60 locations around the world volunteered more than 10,000 hours in their communities.

Use volunteer activities to support corporate philanthropic focus areas.

Ashland has a giving pillar around education. In Latin America, Ashland employees partner with a local school to provide mentors, tutors, and other volunteers. In China, a similar program exists where employees are teamed with migrant and other schools to support classrooms and innovation labs. Ashland has found that global employees like having an opportunity to be involved and feel they are making a difference by tying their volunteer service back to the company and its core focus areas.

Do virtual or onsite volunteer projects.

Partner with a local NGO to identify a specific project such as building hygiene or birthing kits that could be done at the workplace.

Utilize technology

as a key component of global volunteer programs. Make sure your platform is robust and supports the identification and promotion of employee volunteer projects. It is also a good idea to create online opportunities for employees to share their personal stories about volunteer opportunities. Technology can also help recognize and reward employees for their team and individual volunteer efforts.

International volunteering is on the rise which means additional opportunities to make an impact beyond just the giving of dollars. Companies need it, employees want it and NGOs welcome it.