Its the “world's largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, government, and corporate sectors” and it’s happening at a pivotal point in history. The 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service  will take place June 22-24 in San Francisco and will no doubt capitalize on the unprecedented interest in volunteerism sweeping across the United States. While the ‘push-and-pull’ effect of the Obama era , as well as the unexpected abundance of free time due to unemployment have certainly been factors, there seems to be a genuine move toward civic engagement which promises to be a permanent societal shift rather than a passing fad.
There aren’t many places I’d rather be at the end of June than sunny San Francisco, enjoying the company of like-minded people, discussing the things I care most about. But unfortunately, my plan is to remain here in chilly Toronto. Working. Periodically gazing at the palm tree on my desktop background. Sigh....(Are you feeling sorry for me yet?) I am grateful, however, to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) Shannon Schuyler, who has generously offered to bring the conference to us. During the sessions, Shannon will blog (maybe even Twitter? Shannon?) about the information presented that may interest us such as key learnings, announcements, and innovative programs. Realized Worth will post the blogs, allowing us all to participate in the learnings together.
Let me pause here to explain the distinct privilege of hearing directly from Shannon Schuyler. Shannon is the the Managing Director of Corporate Responsibility for PwC in the U.S . PwC’s employee volunteer program is overseen by Shannon and boasts unusually successful statistics for programs of it’s type. Last month, PwC teamed up with Be The Change, Inc. and their Service Nation campaign  in an effort to expand the paid time-off offered to their employees for volunteering. In fact, PwC determined to expand it’s employee volunteer program to build on the momentum created by President Obama’s signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act on April 21. 
For obvious reasons, I wanted to find out more about how this exemplary EVP and the people who run it work, and managed to secure an interview with Ms. Schuyler herself.
My questions spanned from logistics to opinions, statistics to personal feelings. Specifically, I wanted to discover PwC’s present commitment to volunteering, and Shannon’s thoughts on the growing interest in volunteerism, including how it relates to business.
Turns out, PwC’s EVP success boils down to 6 Essential Strengths. Anyone hoping to establish an equally successful program, ought to take note of the following:
1. Employee volunteering is central to a great CSR strategy.
Because Shannon and PwC decided to acknowledge that employee volunteering is a vital piece of corporate responsibility, 2008 produced over 96,000 hours of volunteer time in the community. Shannon told us that nearly 18,000 employees out a total 31,000 participated in PwC volunteer activities. That’s an unbelievable 60% participation rate. Generally, anything north of 40% is exceptional.
2. Causes that matter to the community, matter to the business.
I was increasingly intrigued as Shannon enthusiastically spoke about the program. I couldn’t help but reach for a little personal reflection, so I asked Shannon why she thought so many employees choose to be active in PwC’s programs. With a thoughtful pause, Shannon related that the intention is to approach corporate social responsibility from a holistic perspective, and allow the employee volunteer program to flow from that organically. “PwC asked, how can we start looking at causes to get behind that matter to the community? Then, we took the themes that developed, and found ways for our people to naturally engage.”
At the risk of being redundant, let me emphasis the intentionality of PwC’s approach, which is three-tiered. First, there are firm-sponsored activities. These activities account for the 96,000 hours mentioned earlier. Second, as part of the new partnership with Be The Change, Inc. and their Service Nation campaign, PwC is offering their employees an additional 10 paid hours to volunteer wherever they choose. The third tier is volunteering on personal time. While this is not a PwC initiative, it is an area that the company views as valid. Shannon confirmed that there is a goal to capture the data around personal volunteering in order to integrate it as part of the overall EVP and CSR strategies.
At this point, my curiosity was piqued. I had to ask, with such an intentional approach, and high levels of commitment, what specifically motivates PwC employees to volunteer? This brings us to our 3rd Essential Strength:
3. Volunteer activities that employees and the community enjoy, are worth it to the business.
Shannon believes (and I agree!) that we are in a new era of volunteerism. People are looking for a personal reason to give, as opposed to a financial reason. So, with this in mind, she began to ask “Is there an enjoyable way to impact and engage the community?” PwC believes in doing “what makes sense locally.” Shannon explained that, “integrity, credibility, and responsibility matter. This has been a long-time value of PWC’s, and has had an interesting way of gaining a more poignant meaning with the current economic situation.”
4. Partnerships are best.
PwC maximizes impact and creates lasting results by partnering with other companies. For example, both IBM and PwC have the mandate of education in their community-engagement work. By collaborating, the two companies have managed to leverage each other’s expertise for the benefit of the community.
Turns out this is the same reason PwC connected with Be The Change, Inc. PwC was very impressed with the Service Nation project in particular. “We wanted to connect with the many organizations they worked with. They embraced us; they were willing to help us learn. It felt like a natural partnership. They were able to meet us on a business level.” Be The Change was able to provide exposure to organizations, best practices, and in turn, provide a bridge between the business and the nonprofit sector.
5. Successful EVPs must be meaningful and sustainable.
Shannon pointed out that engaging people is generally not a problem. However, focusing people can be a real challenge. “It would be easy to make people repaint the same fence again and again. What’s more difficult is to find something genuinely meaning for people to do. Usually there are too many people and you have to break down into groups of 5 or 6 in order to find a project that feels significant.”
Shannon believes that PwC’s activities have to be sustainable. 1-day, even 1-month, projects are virtually worthless. PwC has deliberately increased to 3-month projects in order to allow for smaller, more meaningful interactions. This has, not surprisingly, led to some pretty innovative projects. For example, recently PwC began a project called, “Make Responsibility Count.” Employees were given $450 and a video camera and told “see what you can do with this.” The results were amazing! The project was meaningful because space was provided for personal creativity. Each person could own their individual ability to make a difference. (View a video of work done in New Orleans )
6. Boundaries: Create them, and keep them.
When I asked what non-profits can do better as they broker relationships with businesses, Shannon was refreshingly frank. She said, “it seems that NPOS haven’t thought through what companies can really provide for them.” There’s a point where boundaries must be drawn. When NPOs are unwilling or simply incapable (for any variety of reasons) of leveraging the talent, skills and connections that PwC can bring to the table then, Shannon says, “these are the organizations that we have to walk away from.” Non-profits ought to create programs in order to better engage specific staff. These are the ones with which companies will create long-term relationships. PwC wants to partner, not hand over a check. Realistic collaboration will always precede an accurate identification of needs.
And what would make it all better...?
ROI. It always comes down to this. I have yet to find an established EVP program that has logged hard data on the ROI of it’s programs. Shannon admitted that it is a challenge to produce the types of outcome metrics people are asking about such as: What are the satisfaction rates? How many people participated and how do we evaluate the value of that participation? What was the impact of the money we gave? How many interns came on full time because of community work? How many high performing staff became that way as a result of volunteering? So far, Shannon’s experience had led her to decide that the best way to capture metrics is via surveys, but that has only yielded measurements found in stories and anecdotal information. More effective metrics are a “next step” for PwC.
There you go. It is, in fact, Shannon Schuyler, Managing Director of Corporate Responsibility for PwC , who will help us learn from the 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service this month.  We are at a point in history where all eyes are on the development of global sustainability, with a noticeable spotlight on volunteering. This opportunity to be on the cutting edge of the newest and most innovative ideas is a great privilege and one that I am happy to have the opportunity to support along with the global readers of the Realized Worth Blog. Thanks, Shannon! Looking forward to hearing more in a few weeks!