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Okay, I’ve Got a Question

When a business volunteers with a non-profit organization, does it have any effect on the business’ overall productivity? What are the direct benefits for the business? If there’s a link between volunteering and productivity, where do we find the data and how do we measure it to prove the link?

When a business volunteers with a non-profit organization, does it have any effect on the business’ overall productivity? What are the direct benefits for the business?

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If there’s a link between volunteering and productivity, where do we find the data and how do we measure it to prove the link?

Quinn Bingham, the Corporate and Community Engagement Director for the United Way of Greater Toronto, is a guy with the experience and credibility to intelligently discuss these questions. What does his rather complicated-sounding title mean? Here’s how he explained it to me:
Me: “What is your role at United Way?”
Quinn: “Well, here’s the elevator version: I broker.”
Not clear enough? Well, he helps create stronger relationships between donors and non-profits by working with the donors (the businesses) to identify opportunities to resource and volunteer. Definitely along the right lines to provide food for thought as we consider the question above.

Interestingly, Quinn guesstimates that only 5% of the large number of corporations they work with in Toronto make a direct link between their contributions to NPO’s and their own business’ productivity. You would conclude then, that most businesses don’t see any connection at all. Not to mention the NPOs themselves. They want volunteers but don’t see much return on their investment either. As we know, volunteers (even though most of us desperately need them) can be a pain in the ass.

I’ll throw in my personal experience (about 16 years worth) with Quinn’s observations and say that we come to virtually the same conclusions. I have to admit, I find it interesting (and okay, a little discouraging) how little things have changed over nearly two decades. Everyone agrees that it’s “right” to get involved somehow, but it seems we’re all a little confused on the direct, tangible benefits.

I would have hoped businesses would be talking more like this by now:
“As part of our overall strategy for growth as a business, we need to increase our volunteer participation with our signature charity by 15%. We need to do this because we have collected the data and discovered that when our staff volunteer on a regular basis, they are more fulfilled, positive and focused on personal development. This kind of team member brings an contagiously enthusiastic attitude into the workplace, and thats a recipe for success!”

Of course, this would assume that a key strategy for this business is to tie opportunities for personal development and well being to productivity levels at work. Yeah….no one talks like this.

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Maybe one of the main reasons why the connections between volunteering and productivity are not identified as key strategies is because there are no widely applied metrics to determine the bottom line? The Harvard Business Review (December 2006) published a great article by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer ‘Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility’. Porter and Kramer make the observation that companies engaged in corporate social responsibility do offer ratings in their annual reports for how well they are doing as a corporation. The problem is that the evaluations wildly vary from company to company. Not only that, but the data used to measure effectiveness is often incomplete or unreliable.

Besides experiential evidence, simple common sense suggests that volunteering ought to be good for businesses. But if it is….how the hell are we supposed to know? Where’s the hard data? How valid is that data?

Help me out people: When a business volunteers with a non-profit organization, does it have any effect on the business’ overall productivity? What are the direct benefits for the business? And I don’t mean the usual lists that are out there about positive brand image, recruitment and retainment of talent, enhanced career experience and what not. Its not that this isn’t a good list, just that its not good enough. There is usually no hard data that ties volunteering to the bottom line.

If there’s a link between volunteering and productivity, where’s the data, and how do we measure it?

So, leave a comment or email me at chrisjarvis@realizedworth.com.

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About the author

At Realized Worth, we help companies connect with their communities. We do this through corporate volunteering and social media.

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