July 18 is Mandela Day, a day that calls on all of us to help make the world a better place, particularly through volunteering.
While you don’t need a special day like Mandela Day to connect employees to corporate volunteer opportunities, you do need to be thoughtful in your approach to create an impactful volunteering experience.
In all we do at SAP, we encourage employees to act and lead with purpose. This also applies to the approach that we take with corporate volunteering. We have three strategic program pillars in SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (SAP CSR). One of the pillars focuses on our ability to create and facilitate meaningful, inspiring volunteer experiences for all participants, and offers the opportunity for personal transformation for employees — away from their desks.
Volunteering can take many different shapes, including the two largest types. Traditional volunteering is often described as done-in-a-day-events, where SAP employees offer time and often physical hands-on service to a non-profit organization or social enterprise. Skills-based volunteering is an activity that applies our unique skills, abilities, and knowledge in support of a non-profit or social enterprise.
What matters most is the rediscovery of our human connection and a safe space to help participants step out of their comfort zone. Volunteering can help you rethink and reflect on social conventions, personal biases and prejudices, and overall social categorization. These elements form the core of transformative volunteering and guide our focus on creating impactful corporate volunteering experiences at SAP.
When human beings have new experiences, new synaptic pathways begin to forge in our brains. We become alert to new ideas and we can be guided to new understandings and different behavior. Transformative volunteering intentionally introduces us to those behavior-changing experiences, empowering us to become smarter leaders, better employees, and people who make decisions based on empathy and compassion.
– Angela Parker, CEO, Realized Worth
While it may be easy to organize a volunteering event, it takes awareness and understanding for the incredible personal development opportunities to use a volunteer activity as a transformational learning experience for corporate volunteering.
SAP’s strategic volunteering partner Realized Worth is a global agency that specializes in employee volunteer training, program design, and employee engagement. In honor of Mandela Day, a global event supporting the power of transformative volunteering, the agency has outlined a three-step guide to help transform the corporate volunteering experience into a more impactful one.
Framing the Corporate Volunteering Experience
When we talk about transformational volunteering, it may sound more complex than it really is. Rest assured, volunteer leaders won’t need lengthy training, but rather an understanding of how to meaningfully frame a volunteer event.
Step 1: Hold a Brief
Leaders hold briefings in the business context all the time, so why not start a volunteer event in the same way? During the event brief, it’s important to set context. Create the space for participants to learn about the non-profit partner or social enterprise and, most importantly, about the beneficiary. Explaining how the work will help and connect back to the beneficiary aids the volunteers in their process of sensemaking and understanding the purpose of their actions. The brief will help to set expectations for all volunteers and make them feel more comfortable.
Step 2: Guide Volunteers
Every volunteer is different. At any given volunteering event, you may have a mix of attendees. Some people will be first-time volunteers, while others are more experienced and continue to return out of personal motivation. Some individuals are fully and intrinsically motivated to stay engaged and confidently find their way. Meet every volunteer at their highest level of contribution. Assign individual tasks. Check-in with everyone regularly throughout the day. These elements will help ensure that everyone can have a meaningful and inclusive volunteer experience.
Step 3: Hold a Debrief
The last step of reflection is the most important one. Gather everyone at the end of the activity to highlight the accomplishments of the day. This debrief will create a solid ending to the day, but it shouldn’t stop there. Volunteer leads should invite participants to critically reflect on their experiences during the event and encourage constructive feedback as to whether the experience was what the volunteer expected it to be. In a space of psychological safety, these thoughts can be shared with the group, but they don’t have to be. This is where the process of personal transformation begins.
On the Journey Together
Volunteering is a journey for individuals and corporations alike. I encourage you to consider how you can integrate this three-step process into your next corporate volunteering event. Transformative volunteering will help you and your employees confront biases, challenge social barriers, and foster and grow empathy and compassion together. During a time of constant innovation and development in the workplace, these skills are of tremendous importance for employees working in diverse teams and changing contexts.
SAP supports more than 20,000 volunteers annually. I invite you to get to know more about some of our previous projects and the volunteer leaders who are reframing volunteering at SAP to deliver a more meaningful, impactful experience.
Leonie Gilcher is part of SAP Global Corporate Social Responsibility, non-profit in residence with Realized Worth, a global agency that specializes in employee volunteer training, program design, and employee engagement.