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Mindfulness in Corporate Volunteering

By Esther Nai October 1, 2015

mindfulness in corporate volunteering

As most of you know, the desire to give back is tightly weaved into our company culture here at Salesforce. Doing this is made easy for our employees through two of our pillars of giving; time and equity, and also helped in part by the Foundation team, bridging them with volunteering opportunities in our communities.

As increasing numbers of established companies and start-ups develop employee volunteering programs, it is important that we as Program Managers are educating and empowering our employees to start focusing on the impact that they are driving, and to be more mindful about the projects they are working on. It is easy to fall into a unquestioned habit when getting started with these types of programs, so we need to be aware of the infrastructure and priorities we are establishing, to ensure we are not merely fulfilling an employee engagement piece. Never let short term goals make you lose sight of the strategic and longer term social impact outcomes.

Part of my role as Foundation Program Manager in Singapore is to broker the needs of the community and also our employees’ desire to give back. The challenge, as discussed, lies in crafting a sensible and mindful approach to creating community partnerships that are both sustainable and impactful. So, how do we go about educating and empowering our employees to start focusing on the impact they are driving and to be more thoughtful about the programs they are working on?

First, I think it is important to note that the next generation of millennial hires entering the workforce are coming with a stronger sense of the world they live in, and with a sharper self-awareness and critical take towards companies’ corporate responsibility approaches and what it means to volunteer. It might make the shift towards mindful volunteering that little bit easier, but it does take some work.

Just one example of what we have done in Singapore this past year involves getting business units to adopt a nonprofit that they would commit to and work with for the year ahead, fully owning this relationship as a team and coming up with regular volunteering activities. The rationale underpinning this type of approach is mutually beneficial. Firstly, it provides a regular cadence of volunteering opportunities for employees who might be starting to question one-off and ad-hoc approaches to engagement and secondly, it could actually bring value to the nonprofit by cutting down on the time required to retrain volunteers, at the same time, addressing a need that is actually present.

It is never too early to start thinking critically about the need for a coherent and sensible approach. Undoubtedly, for any partnerships to be successful, it takes two parties to aim for a common outcome. For companies, it is time to adopt a more honest and introspective approach when engaging the community and that starts with asking ‘why’.

Some Advice and Lessons Learned

Keep communication lines open and two-way

Both corporates and nonprofits should consciously strive to broker honest conversations about needs and expectations. It is also helpful to adopt a mindset that is geared towards co-creation of value and to have a collaborative spirit at the table. If there are no existing opportunities for synergy, it is perfectly fine to find another suitable time to revisit the potential for a partnership.

Employee engagement or impact

The truth of the matter is that it is tricky to find a right balance in this equation. Does your company choose to prioritize employee engagement or social impact to the community? Granted, at the start of a young company’s giving back journey, the former is required to build the momentum and interest. However, once the tipping point is met, never forget why you started. Impact should be the constant factor in your equation.

Create a win-win situation

Always work with the motivation that you need to be providing value to the community. For corporate volunteering to be sustainable and meaningful, you need to start believing in a win-win outcome. By that, it means that the community and the volunteers have to work towards reaching a point where a need of the nonprofit is truly met and the volunteer has to be able to walk away from the activity, being acutely aware of whether the engagement has been an impactful one.

Create ambassadors, and empower them

Employees are wonderful resources to ensure the longevity and meaningful nature of volunteering. Most corporate social responsibility teams are lean, so in order to ensure continuity in engagement, we need to create and surround ourselves with ambassadors within the company who will take up the mantle of leading and championing programs. Educate, inspire and empower a team of like-minded and passionate employees. As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work.

Be self-critical and mindful

We need to be self-critical and mindful about why and how we are volunteering. Volunteers should be sure that the organisations have a need that they can adequately meet before deciding to commit. There is a case to be made for companies to be more self-critical about their own impact and be probing of the nonprofits they intend to work with. Make tough calls and ask hard questions at the start – that is about the only way you know whether you are truly making a difference.

Training and feedback

Care and attention need to go into planning a volunteering partnership. If you are thinking about corporate volunteering, make sure that your employees are mentally prepared and ready to take on the task. Volunteers cannot add value to a volunteering activity if they are not properly trained and if they do not understand the context of work they are involved in. After the activity, be sure to close the loop by asking for honest feedback from the organization on how you could add more value during future engagements.. There is always more room for knowledge-sharing and skills exchange between the nonprofit and corporate sectors.

Esther NaiAbout Esther:

Esther leads and executes programs for across Asia. She has been working with for 4+ years and hopes to create a sustainable infrastructure for corporate responsibility programs in her region. At the same time, Esther aims to influence local companies to think more mindfully about the impact of corporate volunteering and co-creation of value in strategic community partnerships.

Check out some of our employee volunteering stories at Salesforce