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3 minute read

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.

[Image: Flickr user North Charleston]

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.