by Bridget Badiou
What do IBM, Google, BMW, Biogen, Mondelez and Monsanto all have in common?
They all have an employee volunteer programme and they all had representatives at the recent conference in Zurich. I was there for Monsanto as we have a volunteer programme called Monsanto Together. It was launched in the U.S. about 2 years ago and is about to be extended to Europe. Monsanto is a member of IAVE, the International Association for the Volunteer Effort, and this year its annual conference was co-hosted by Credit Suisse in Zurich. Volunteer programmes may appear at first glance to be easy to implement. Give an employee some time off work to go and spend an afternoon filling boxes or painting a school or driving an elderly person to the shops.
As this conference demonstrated, it is not as simple as saying you have a programme. Which department is best placed to launch the programme, the HR department or the commercial team? Should the time be on company time, or on employee’s own time? Should the company track where the time is being spent and which organisations are benefitting from staff time? Should you focus on local or cross-border, international projects? And how do you ensure success and measure the impact of the programme? Those are the kinds of questions that were tackled during the two-day event.
There is general consensus that any volunteering results in a more engaged and satisfied employee. But do the receipients of volunteers’ time and the companies who employ the volunteers have the same goals? Not quite. On the one hand companies tend to give a day off for volunteering–they are in business to make money, in the end, not provide social services–whereas the recipient organisation wants a long-term relationship with volunteers. Companies have a tendency to want to use events as a team-building exercise, but the recipient group wants needs focus. Companies think volunteering is support and no budget required whereas volunteering is not really free for either party. And finally there is the belief that anyone can do anything, whereas the recipient organisations–often non-governmental organisations (NGOs), more often than not needs skills-based volunteers where training is required.
The upshot: a corporate volunteer programme isn’t that easy to implement.
Participants at these sorts of conferences often don’t walk away with the silver bullet as there is no one-shot answer. Each volunteer programme is unique and depends on the corporate identity and local culture.
In 2014 a total of 5,276 Monsanto employees volunteered a total of 113,228 hours. The efforts were in a range of activities, mainly in hunger and nutrition, with education coming in a close second. Monsanto sees an important role for volunteering is in helping improve the communities in which our 24,000 employees live and work.
You can read about some of our recent local volunteer initiatives here: