Corporate Citizenship

The World Needs More Volunteers; Here’s How Employers Can Help

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We celebrate the spirit of volunteerism on International Volunteer Day, December 5, by recognizing the contributions of those who give back to schools, communities, and people in need. Imagine what a difference it would make it we could focus on altruism year-round and keep it going. Working together, we can.

Many do what they can to help—deliver food, contribute to charities, clean up parks and shores. Some efforts are on our own, others through the workplace. Many employers, including IBM where thousands of my colleagues participate in volunteer programs, encourage and facilitate these contributions.

Yet, as helpful as these programs are, they are not enough. Volunteerism has been declining, according to the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute, which found reduced volunteerism by high school and college students over the years.

It’s time for new approaches. For example, we need more ways to donate our professional talents and resources throughout the year. At IBM, employees can take weeks off, with pay, to perform community service in the U.S. and overseas. Morgan Stanley, Unilever, and Johnson and Johnson have similar programs.

More than 100,000 IBM employees participate in IBM Volunteers, a global program to support local communities. Not-for-profits post their needs online, and volunteers step in to help. We equip them with activity kits to guide their work, whether serving on a school board or mentoring students. Participants logged 1.3 million volunteer hours in more than 90 countries in 2018.

Longer-term commitments are made through IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, which contributes to strategic projects all over the world. Last year, 37 teams of IBM employees performed pro bono work in to 24 countries, on projects in education, healthcare, economic development, and community resiliency.

Notably, that investment of time, resources, and talent has many benefits to IBM. It’s become an important development opportunity for company leaders. Employees come back with a renewed commitment to client service, sharpened technical skills, and cultural experience. IBM clients occasionally participate in the program, deepening relationships.

Power of the Workplace

Despite these upsides, volunteering professional time and energy is not as popular as, say, preparing or distributing food. According to a 2018 survey by the Commission for National and Community Service, professional services ranked seventh as a volunteer activity.

We can change that, to the benefit of all. Employers that encourage employees to perform community service create happier workplaces. The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship found a strong link between employee volunteerism and workplace participation. And people who volunteer tend to have better physical and mental health, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

During this holiday season, many will make time for roll-up-your-sleeves volunteer work. In doing so, let’s also use the power of the workplace, with the multiplying effect of like-minded colleagues, to extend our reach in helping others.

Vice President & Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, IBM

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