The following blog entry is a cross-post from my blog Realizing You...
Employee volunteering programs hold great potential for companies, communities, and employees; they represent a vast resource of knowledge, networks and skills. So why do most employee volunteering events seem...well, a little silly?
What constitutes an effective corporate volunteering program?
One way to recognize a successful employee volunteering program is by looking into whom the program benefits. At Realized Worth, we believe the program should clearly benefit three groups: a) the business; b) the employee; and c) the community/non-profit. Now, let me note here that "benefit" is not synonymous with "fun" or "nice." The social issues facing many communities today are serious and long-term. Therefore, the solutions implemented to address these issues must be equally serious and long-term. That’s not to say they can't be fun, but let's be clear: an annual employee field trip is not an effective method for addressing systemic social problems.
Kraft dinner: Making a Delicious Difference
As much as my kids love Kraft dinner, I'm afraid this blog is about to spotlight them (Kraft, not my kids) as a bad example. It's programs like their Making a Delicious Difference Week
campaign that contribute to the confusion around employee volunteering. The campaign ran this year from October 4 - 9 - and it was nice. And it helped create awareness. And I imagine it was probably a lot of fun. It was not, however, a good example of employee volunteering.
"In more than 40 countries around the world this week, Kraft Foods' employees are giving back to their communities in conjunction with the company's annual global week of service called Delicious Difference Week. Taking place around the world from October 4 to 9, some 20,000 employees will be volunteering in the name of charity to make a delicious difference in their respective communities. It is the largest employee volunteer event in Kraft Foods history."
Sounds great, until you begin to read about some of the actual activities...
"In Dubai, more than 100 employees of Kraft Foods GCC and New Markets, Middle East (Kraft Foods GCC & NM, Middle East) set a new Guinness World Record (GWR) at the Dubai Outlet Mall when they created the world's longest line of sandwiches spanning 2,667 meters and comprising of 10,000 individual sandwiches. Once the record had been announced by GWR officials, these sandwiches were packed by employees into 5,000 food packages containing other Kraft Foods products and distributed amongst the less fortunate members of society."
Okay, I hate to point out the obvious, but this isn’t CSR. This isn’t a good example of employee volunteering. This is just a fun day out of the office. Giving a sandwich to the "less fortunate members of society" in Dubai is a mockery of the incredible human rights issues facing huge populations of Pakistani...
Of course, there were many other expressions of Kraft’s Delicious Difference Week that are better examples of employee volunteering. In India, for example, employees provided meals to 10,000 children in 15 locations
. Most importantly, they did so in partnership with an established nonprofit, the Akshaya Patra Foundation
, which provides meals on an ongoing basis to school children who are in need of food.
3 Steps toward an effective volunteer program
So, what should Kraft do to ensure next year’s Making a Delicious Difference Week is an effective employee volunteering event? How can they put their resources behind something that is genuine CSR? Let me suggest three basic actions to start with:
1. Plan events with long-term programs - and ultimately long-term solutions - in mind. Then, take the time to explain to us, your consumer, why you did it that way. You can create awareness with balloons and big sandwhiches - or you can motivate change by showing us how to do things differently. Awareness is good; action is better.
2. Plan CSR campaigns in conjunction with non-profits. Partnerships are a perfect way for companies to involve themselves in real solutions while enabling non-profits to do their good work. Once you've established these partnerships, highlight the non-profit organizations in the media. During Making a Delicious Difference Week, there were many cases where Kraft did in fact, do just that. In those cases, the week's events were meaningful.
3. Tell us about more than just the activities and outputs (i.e. a big sandwich). We want to hear about outcomes and, again, long-term impacts. How is the world different because a huge company like Kraft rolled up it’s sleeves and got into the fight against hunger and poverty? Providing a free lunch for a few thousand people isn’t enough.
Start with these three steps and immediately, you'll begin to see clear benefit for the company, the employee, and the community. Keep all three in mind throughout the program development and you'll find yourself with one of the few truly effective employee volunteer programs out there. (And when you get there, I'd love to hear about it.)
Chris Jarvis & Angela Parker
Learn more about Realized Worth
Connecting companies with communities through employee volunteering & social media.