How Companies Can Profit From Doing Good

One company challenged all of its employees to volunteer, and the positive results it soon saw were two-fold.

The Dow is still up sharply over last year and unemployment levels have fallen. After weathering the recession, many large and mid-size companies are finding that business is good. But are businesses doing good?

Thousands of companies are trying. They've launched corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, dispatching staff to do everything from painting local schools to addressing root causes of poverty.

Yet there's a key problem: Most employees opt not to participate. In fact, only 3 in 10 employees of Fortune 500 companies volunteered even an hour of their time in 2012, according to a survey by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

As a result, these firms are missing a huge opportunity—not just to enhance CSR efforts, but also to improve employee recruitment, retention, and productivity, and to establish and reinforce their reputations as good corporate citizens.

Recent research from Deloitte suggests frequent volunteers are more likely to recommend their employer to a friend and are more satisfied with their career progression. One survey even found that a third of respondents would take a pay cut to work for a company that was committed to CSR.

Our challenge for employees to do good

I am convinced that when it comes to doing good, businesses have a tremendous amount to gain from doing better. I’ve seen what renewed commitment to CSR can do. A year ago at The Advisory Board Company—a for-profit research, technology, and consulting firm with more than 2,700 employees—only about half of our staff had joined our community service efforts. So I challenged my colleagues to achieve a 100% participation rate.

In December, we reached that milestone: Every single one of our employees is now pitching in. Last year, we logged more than 32,000 hours of service—$1.7 million worth of time. We served more than 500 community not-for-profit organizations worldwide. Our staff built houses for the poor, cared for the homeless, led literacy programs, and participated in pro bono projects where we put our unique professional skills and expertise to work for not-for-profit organizations.

As a result, in addition to positively impacting our communities, our employees are more engaged than ever in our company’s work and mission. This is particularly true of employees who participate in pro bono work, with more than two-thirds reporting enhanced skills as a result. And employees who joined a pro bono project were 42% more likely to be promoted than non-participating peers. Overall, we have also seen a meaningful improvement in employee retention.

Just this week Points Of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, awarded our firm its annual Corporate Engagement Award of Excellence. The honor is designed to recognize companies "that have made a commitment to building strong and effective employee volunteer programs."

How can other organizations do more?

Make it easy for employees to serve their communities. Make sure that service opportunities are easy to find and always available. We have a dedicated team that continually engages with nonprofits, works with department representatives to alert employees of service opportunities, and organizes team activities. And we give each employee up to 10 hours of paid time off to volunteer during working hours every month—that’s four times what the average company provides, according to the Points of Light Corporate Institute.

Present service as an opportunity for skill building. Encourage employees to play to their professional strengths and personal interests when selecting and participating in service activities. We take our analytical, consulting, and design/development talents to nonprofit organizations, many of which, like our firm, focus on health care and higher education issues. The opportunity—and pay-off in terms of staff skill-development—is huge, but only 14% of companies do skills-based volunteering, according to Deloitte's research.

Focus on company culture. You can’t simply demand that employees participate in CSR. You’ll get the best results if employees view generosity and impact as their guiding principles. At The Advisory Board Company, we even include service ethic in our criteria for hiring and our bi-annual performance review process, where we assess employees’ "spirit of generosity" alongside quality, productivity, leadership, and other attributes.

It’s true that CSR calls for a major commitment, but there is no doubt in my mind that the results are worth it. So let’s set a new standard for corporate generosity in 2014. Just imagine what would happen if every company around the globe doubled its community impact work this year.

A higher participation rate is more than just a smart human resources strategy—it’s also good for business.

Robert Musslewhite is Chairman and CEO of The Advisory Board Company, a technology, research and consulting firm serving health care and higher education organizations.

[Image: Flickr user North Charleston]

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14 Comments

  • jsandalow

    What makes the Advisory Board Company the gold standard in volunteering is not just that they reached 100% participation. It is that they did so while also ensuring that the volunteer work really made a difference. As one of their non-profit partners, we heard the message loud and clear that they didn't want us to "make work" for their employees. Instead, they wanted to know how their expertise and talent could make a difference for the children we serve and would help build our capacity to accomplish our mission. After each project they evaluate their involvement and ask smart, hard questions. Kudos to Robert and his team.

  • jsandalow

    I think what makes the Advisory Board the gold standard is that they have achieved 100% participation while also making sure that all of their volunteer work makes a real difference in the community. They have been very clear with us, one of their non-profit partner, that we should never "make work" for them. Instead, they are intent on finding projects that will improve the lives of the children we serve or will strengthen our capacity to accomplish our mission. And they hold themselves to this standard, evaluating each project when it is was completed, and asking smart, hard questions.

  • Robert Musslewhite sets the standard when it comes to making community service an organizational value. The Advisory Board Company’s ongoing partnership with Miriam’s Kitchen extends so much further than simply volunteering with our chronically homeless guests. Their team regularly provides us with valuable pro bono consulting services and skills-based trainings that help us perform better as an organization. At each opportunity, their volunteers are smart, dedicated, and motivated by the chance to serve.

    As a partner and a member of our Board, Robert sets a tremendous example of the value of community service as a personal and professional commitment.

  • The Advisory Board Company has been a champion partner for years; they host Urban Alliance High School Interns as well as provide support to over 100 of our youth every fall. The Advisory Board Company staff pair up with our high school seniors to review their college essays and provide substantive feedback. The folks at Advisory Board are amazing!

  • murphy_james

    Great article. As a fellow CSR professional at a different consulting firm, we've found the key aspects of employee engagement to be A. helping people find opportunities that are valuable to the community and B. helping them find ways to practice new skills.

  • You hit the nail on the head with this article. Here at A Billion + Change, a campaign inspiring businesses to do skills-based and pro bono volunteering, we’ve greatly benefited from the ABC’s leadership and example.There are so many great reasons for companies to consider a skills-based and pro bono initiative:

    1. There’s more opportunity: 92% of nonprofits across the nation say they do not have enough pro bono support [Taproot National Data and Financial Dynamics, 2013].
    2. A win for companies AND employees: Skills-based volunteers have 59% HIGHER employee morale than non-volunteers and 13% HIGHER employee morale than those who do regular volunteering.
    3. Greater impact on the community: The value of skilled support for general operations, technology and professional services can be 500% greater than the value of traditional volunteering [2012 Volunteerism ROI Tracker Analysis, True Impact, 2012]. Learn how your company can get involved, by visiting www.abillionpluschange.org
  • Eddie Ferrer

    Well said. As an employee of a non-profit in the District, I have seen the Advisory Board's commitment to its community first-hand. They not only put their money where their mouth is, but more importantly, they dedicate their time, roll up their sleeves, and actually strategically engage in the work of improving our city. Hopefully more companies will take notice and follow their lead.

  • When I first joined Advisory, it was mostly for the crazy amazing benefits. But in every single interview they kept telling me about the service opportunities. Since I already ran my own nonprofit, the possibility of joining a company that would not only wholeheartedly support the work I was already doing, but would offer even more opportunities for me to serve, on company time no less, was sort of like entering utopia. I was skeptical, but, like I said, the bennies were great so I signed on.

    Well color me surprised. Just a week in I was already encouraged to lead a community service group, and not just by the Community Impact department (there's a whole department), but even by my managers, who have nothing to do with CI. I've been given the opportunity to organize employees around service projects both small and large, and we have yet to have a project that hasn't had volunteers replying to our emails within seconds. On top of that, the CI team and the firm as a whole have given time, resources, and support to every project we have completed, and are thoroughly invested in our success.

    As an entrepreneur, I've never really been a "job" kind of girl. But between the bens (seriously, they're so good) and the opportunities I've been given to make a serious impact with the resources of a company much larger and more influential than anything I can start in my garage, I'm sticking around.

    Richard Branson has always been my biggest hero, he's one of the first to think big about how corporations can do well by doing good. It's so exciting that Robert and the rest of the firm have taken that to heart.

  • brittonc

    As an Advisory Board employee, I really appreciate the support the company provides me for the volunteer work I do with leaders at Miriam's Kitchen, an organization dedicated to not only giving practical support to the homeless here in my home town of Washington, DC, but also to ending chronic homelessness. http://www.miriamskitchen.org/

    Having the opportunity to work with my colleagues in service to our neighbors is a major factor in our unique culture and in making this a great place to work.

    Christine Britton

  • brittonc

    As an Advisory Board employee, I really appreciate the support the company provides me for the volunteer work I do with leaders at Miriam's Kitchen, an organization dedicated to not only giving practical support to the homeless here in my home town of Washington, DC, but also to ending chronic homelessness. http://www.miriamskitchen.org/

    Having the opportunity to work with my colleagues in service to our neighbors is a major factor in our unique culture and in making this a great place to work.

  • Lyda Vanegas

    You’re right Mr. Musslewhite: there’s nothing more valuable for us (the nonprofits) than a corporate commitment to help us create a positive impact on the communities we serve. We (Mary’s Center) are one of the lucky 500 organizations touched by the Advisory Board Company’s amazing staff. You’ve made us stronger and wiser when it comes to make decisions and identify resources on our commitment to pave the road for healthier generations. Thank you for your encouragement to strengthen volunteer participation. Our planet would definitively be better!

  • ellawton

    Thanks to the Advisory Board Co. for setting a great standard and both sharing and reaping the benefits of pro bono work. The legal profession has long featured pro bono participation as a core strategy for leadership, professional development and employee satisfaction. Many a bored corporate attorney has been revived by their energetic engagement in a satisfying pro bono project. The 100% challenge is bold and ought to be the standard across all sectors - for all the reasons stated in the article.

  • mark

    The Advisory Board Company supported the work of my nonprofit organization by providing a design team to create a new logo and design new marketing collateral. This work has already proven effective in partnership cultivation and revenue generation efforts. Reach Incorporated is grateful for their commitment to serving the DC community.

  • Awesome to see Advisory Board getting some recognition for their hard and, even more importantly, smart work in our community! They devote so much time, talent, and energy to DC Central Kitchen (www.dccentralkitchen.org) that we consider them an ongoing component of our daily work.