The Complete Guide to Corporate Volunteering for CSR

This guide is for businesses and CSR managers who want to know how to organise and manage
a corporate volunteering programme.

Introduction

Gone are the days of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) being a rare internal organisation policy. Now, rather wonderfully, businesses all around the world submit annual reports showcasing their philanthropic and charitable investments.

Do not think CSR as an inconvenience to your business. Do not think that it hinders your business’ economic role. With the right CSR strategy, you can improve company performance as well as benefit the wider society. This guide sets out to help you plan, prepare and execute a corporate volunteering programme for your company.

Top fact: A 2017 University of Oxford study found that over 80% of investors considered environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when making decisions.

Triple Bottom Line is an increasingly popular way of company accounting, incorporating both social and environmental considerations into the traditional bottom line method of accounting.
Image source: Clonewayx (CC)

Before we start guiding you on how to choose your company’s CSR and corporate volunteering strategy, we will need to cover a bit of groundwork with definitions and explanations. You can, of course, skip ahead to whichever section you desire by clicking on the preferred chapter in the contents listed below, chapter 6 if you want to start right away with your company’s CSR strategy.

Who We are

Fuze Ecoteer Outdoor Adventures Sdn Bhd is a social enterprise based in Malaysia who works with partners all over the world. Our work, which has been ongoing since 2005, is focused on nature and wildlife conservation. We run corporate volunteering programmes, collaborating with major companies like American Express and Baskin Robbins by developing bespoke volunteering programmes focused on their CSR objectives.

You can check out the about us section for more details on our company.

Definitions

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Depending on who you ask, CSR is either described as a form of conscious capitalism, sustainable business or greenwash. It is wiser for us to set these subjective terms aside and instead focus on the widely used definitions. Let’s take the World Bank’s who define CSR as “the commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development, working with their employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve quality of life, in ways that are both good for business and good for development” (World Bank, 2003). Most of us would more specifically define it as something like: a business strategy in which companies commit to and report positive environmental, ethical and philanthropic activities

Top fact: In 2017, 93% of the top 250 global companies reported their corporate responsibility (KPMG, 2017).

In an extensive paper in the Journal of Business Ethics, so seeing CSR through a more corporate lens, international corporate law expert Benedict Sheehy described it as “international, private business self-regulation” (Sheehy, 2015). Really, an exact definition is not so important, so long as we can spot the general characteristics of CSR, which is why Crane et al. (2019) drew up the following infographic that recognises the main recurring themes of global CSR definitions:

Diagram of CSR and six aspects of it.

Core characteristics of CSR, taken from Crane et al. (2019).

CSR covers all manners of virtues, from internal company improvements like employee healthcare and pension plans, to external societal improvements like corporate volunteering. There are different ways to subcategorise CSR such as by internal vs external CSR, environmental vs ethical vs philanthropic CSR or volunteering vs fundraising vs donating.

How does Corporate Volunteering differ from CSR?

As you can see, corporate volunteering is different to CSR in that it is just one example of CSR that a company can take. Even within corporate volunteering, which is increasingly known as employer-supported volunteering (ESV), you can subdivide it further into group or individual volunteering. The former tends to take the form of corporate team-days whereas the latter is slightly more nuanced, with employers encouraging employee volunteering through business-charity partnerships or by offering paid volunteering days.

The great news for you is that the volunteering world sees corporate volunteering as a burgeoning sector and many organisations are starting to incorporate and accommodate corporate volunteering into their business plan. They’ll all be fighting for you!

What are the benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Planning Your Corporate Volunteering

Top tip: See if your company has a ‘Volunteering Policy’ to follow through this process. If it doesn’t, consider writing one before you commit to a volunteering programme, or use this experience to develop a company policy. Check out this guide by NCVO Knowhow for help with your company volunteering policy.

Choosing the right Corporate Volunteering for your business

Your CSR choices are a great chance to support the causes that are important to your company and its shareholders. As such, they will serve as a guide to customers, investors and stakeholders over what your company represents. Think about your buying personas and customers and focus your CSR strategy to appease them. 

Case Study: Proctor & Gamble

Proctor & Gamble, who operate in the consumer goods industry, have done a great job at focusing their CSR on environmental and sustainability causes. This is no coincidence; they know how damaging their industry is to the environment and that a lot of their customer base will care about this, and so, to remedy this, they have invested heavily on environmental CSR to improve their PR and solidify their customer base.

Decide upon your aims for corporate volunteering: what do you hope to get out of the process? Are you hoping to develop certain employee skills? Are you more focused on team building? Which of our list of benefits of corporate volunteering are you most focused on? Setting out a list of aims will be a great starting point for you to choose the corporate volunteering programme that is right for your company.

Top tip: Make sure the corporate volunteering programmes you commit to are easily reportable. This will help with marketing and company reporting.

Table for Planning Corporate Volunteering

Should you go directly with an NGO or work with an experienced provider? If you are doing individual and small group volunteering then we would suggest you go directly to an NGO or social enterprise. However, if you are looking to do more technical, larger group events then you will increasingly need an experienced provider. The provider will do a lot of the work for you and will provide the safety aspects as well as the back up plans. Nonetheless, there are no drawbacks to “going alone” as long as you have the time and do it right, and don’t worry, because this guide is here to help you! 

If you are based in Malaysia, the following is a list of organisations that connect businesses and volunteering projects.

  • Do Something Good – runs a specific ‘Corporate Volunteering Programme’ that connects companies with NGOs.
  • Incitement – a social media platform that shares volunteering projects.
  • Sedunia – a platform that shares information about volunteer projects in Malaysia.

For more information on where and how to volunteer in Malaysia, you can check out our ‘Volunteer in Malaysia’ Guide.

It’s important to meet with a few different organisations so you can compare them and understand the different options you have. Remember, the onus is on them to impress you in the first meeting not vice versa. Having said that, be nice! These guys are outside of the corporate world and may find it daunting to be interacting with polished-shoed, smartly dressed businessmen and women in a swanky downtown office.

What you are looking for in a potential partner is of course up to you, but certainly we think that passion and professionalism are very important. Passion suggests a desire to do good and professionalism suggests an ability to do good.

Top tip: If you do not have inhouse photographers or videographers, it is worth asking potential partners if they can supply someone. They will want the pictures and videos for their marketing purposes just as much as you!

Once both sides have expressed an interest in working together and have discussed what form the volunteering will take, it is time to get to the knitty-gritty of the deal. Usually, the volunteering organisation will come up with a proposal and send it to you for your approval. This proposal will outline an itinerary for the volunteering with all the important details, including who will supply what, and suggest a fee with a full cost breakdown. It is up to you guys to work out the payment details. 

Top tip: From our experience, you would be expected to pay before the programme is run but be sure to include a cancellation clause.

After you’ve agreed terms with the social enterprise / NGO and/or volunteering company, you’ll have to finalise the costing and budget for your company. This will include the fee as well as any additional expenditure on your behalf such as promotional material and expenses.

You will need to insure yourself unless you are using a provider company that has accident insurance for travelling and during the event. Some activities, such as the scuba diving we organise at Fuze Ecoteer, are considered higher risk by insurance companies, and you will need to make sure that your insurance policy covers these.

This will depend upon your country. In Malaysia, it is now essential for there to be a licensed tour guide on any travel bus. The role of the tour guide is to ensure that all participants are on the bus and if there is an accident, they are responsible for the participants whilst the driver manages the vehicle.

It’s important for you to obtain a risk assessment for the activities.  You and the volunteering company need to know the risks and how they will be managed and reduced.  It is also important for you to include nearby hospital details and even to give the nearest hospital a visit. Note that if you are working with an NGO, you will probably need to do all this yourself. However, if the organisation has experience of leading groups then they should be able to give you their own risk assessment and experience of the nearest hospital.

Go into detail in the itinerary. Even go into what service stations you plan to stop at on your way to the site and how far there is between each stop. Note that the larger your group, the greater the chances for delays. If you have a large group, account for the fact that there will likely be delays to your itinerary by contingency planning.

Not such a problem for indoor acitvities but it may still affect travel. For those outdoor corporate volunteering programmes, weather is always something you must consider, particularly for larger groups.  You will need to have rain back up plans. From our experience, this is so important (see more in the ‘On Site’ section).

Preparing for Your Corporate Volunteering Programme

Once you have finalised your corporate volunteering programme, there are three parts to the preparation process leading up to the big day(s):

With the volunteering organisation

Make sure you remain in touch with the organisers within the volunteer organisation so you can iron out all the details and specifics. If possible, it is well worth doing a site visit with you and your core team in order to check out the location(s) in which the employees will be volunteering. You may find that physically visiting the site gives you inspiration on how to organise the volunteering day(s), or on other things that you had not previously considered. A site visit will certainly give you peace of mind that you are not marching off into the unknown, and knowing what to expect will do much to calm your nerves.  

tiga ruang perhentian turtle volunteer conservation project
Tiga Ruang on the Perhentian Islands is one of Fuze Ecoteer's corporate volunteering sites.

This is also a good time for you to go over responsibilities with the organisation entity i.e. who does the register, who checks people into the hotel, who books the hotel, roomings, what happens if someone is missing, who does crowd control etc etc. This is particularly important if you are doing a large group volunteering weekend.

Within your company

Corporate volunteering is the perfect opportunity for team bonding that is unlikely to happen in-office. If you have a lot of employees involved, it is a neat idea to put them into teams for the volunteering day(s), encouraging teamwork in a new environment. This all depends on your business and its situation; perhaps you want to strengthen the relationships within departments, in which case putting them into departmental teams would be a wise choice; or perhaps you want to give the whole business a more united departmentless feel, in which case you should take the opportunity to put employees into teams that they wouldn’t usually work with. Don’t miss this chance for team bonding!

Before you head out on your corporate volunteering programme, organise a meeting with your core team and all of the employees involved. This is when you outline all the details of the day(s), important health and safety information, and tell employees what they need to bring, where they need to be, and hand out disclaimer forms.  If you are splitting up into teams, perhaps take this opportunity to announce them, or for even more excitement(!), draw employee names out of a hat or use an online random generator to decide the teams. You’d be surprised how fun this can be!

With your core team

With your core team (which may in fact just be you), there remains quite a lot of preparation at this point. 

The key thing for you is to focus on developing clear aims for the volunteering programme: “What exactly do we want to get out of this?”. Come up with a list of outcomes, stats and data that you will want to be able to report afterwards. This forms a great structure and will allow you to focus what could otherwise be an unfocused and wasted outing. 

Top tip: Split your core team into two and have half go to the site early on the day(s) to make sure nothing is amiss, and the other half are with the employees, sorting their arrival and travel to the site.

Make sure you have someone to take images and videos of the volunteering day(s). This could be an inhouse photographer or marketer, it could be someone the volunteer company has provided, or it could be a freelance photographer or videographer. A quick Google of “freelance photographers” should tell you how to get in touch with local freelancers.

Here in Malaysia, the following is a list of places to get in touch with local freelancers: 

Top tip: Get a drone photographer if you can. Drones are increasingly common and the shots you can get with them are great for marketing purposes.

If you have the means, invite and/or hire influential social media users to come to your corporate volunteering programmes. Everyone loves a celebrity and they are a great marketing tool for your company to improve its PR. Click here for a great guide to influencer marketing by HubSpot.

Where would event organisers be without lists? In fact, how could we organise anything?! To prepare for your corporate volunteering programme, you will need to write out three main checklists:

  1. Things you and/or your core team will need to provide.
    • Including posters, banners and stands.
    • First aid kits.
  2. Things employees will need to bring with them.
  3. Contingency planning – accidents, bad weather
Drone image of a beach cleanup

A great drone image by our friends at Seven Clean Seas.

On Site

If you have planned everything well and followed the steps we have outlined, the volunteering day(s) themselves should go off without-a-hitch. Unfortunately, there are always things out of your control that can go wrong. From our experience, the most common of these are: 

    • Transport issues e.g. delays, cancellations, no-shows.
    • Weather issues.
    • Technical issues e.g. presentations, projectors, speakers.
    • Injuries or illnesses.
    • Drinking water.
    • Missing items or props.
    • Forgetful employees not bringing things.

The important thing is to plan ahead for all eventualities so that you are ready for whatever the day(s) has in store for you. However, regardless of how much you prepare and plan, there is likely to be something unforeseen that does not go according to plan. In these moments, it is important to remain calm, to not see it as “the end of the world” or that “the day is ruined”, but to work closely with the volunteering organisation to find the best solution to the problem.

“There have been days when we have organised for activities and we have had to go to rain back up plans. Our team all knew what to do so the rain back up plan went well. It’s important for the rain backup plans to be as thoroughly prepared as the main activity. The biggest issues though are either technical ones or those that come with people being late. The best thing to get over this is to have a big group chat to remind people. Make sure only one person can write though. For technical things, make sure you have backups of all presentations, laptops, projectors and speakers.”
Daniel Quilter Fuze Ecoteer Biodiversity Survey Consultant
Daniel Quilter
Fuze Ecoteer Co-Founder

On Site Marketing

Make sure your photographer(s) are taking LOTS of photos. The last thing you want is to have invested a lot of time and money into a volunteering programme and then don’t have anything to show for it. Check out some of the images and videos below of Fuze Ecoteer’s collaboration over the years with American Express. These are great promotional material for the company.

Top tip: Remember to update your social media accounts throughout the day, focusing on light-hearted and inspiring images and videos.

Reporting Corporate Volunteering for CSR

Top fact: In 2017, 97 of the biggest 100 Malaysian companies reported their corporate responsibility (KPMG, 2017).

By its very nature, CSR requires public reporting. Many companies commit to a sustainability report or something similar. The exact form of your reporting will depend on your company’s policy but the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the most widely used global standard for sustainability reporting and sets reporting frameworks for different organisations.

You need to be able to report the outcomes of your corporate volunteering for CSR purposes. Not only is this an obligation to the public but it is a chance for you to showcase your business’s positive actions to different stakeholders and potential investors. 

Infographic of the GRI standards

Latest GRI standards for sustainability reporting.
Taken from the GRI website.

Make sure you record all the volunteering actions. For example, if you were doing a beach cleanup, then you would need data on all the items collected, expenditure with receipts, hours, meetings and employees involved.

Here’s what Akira Hirai, a consultancy CEO and entrepreneur with 30 years of experience had to say on the importance of reporting CSR: “Check the websites of most major companies and you’ll see content highlighting the work they’re doing to protect the planet or support their local communities. That’s because smart businesses embed their charitable projects in their marketing plans, using their community relations or sustainability efforts to engage customers and boost site traffic through clever promotion.”

Over to You

So, there we have it, our complete guide to corporate volunteering for CSR. We hope it has been helpful. If you have any questions, you can contact us at adventure@fuze-ecoteer.com. Otherwise, we have a few other guides that may be of interest to you:

Resources

More on CSR

Selected studies into the impacts of CSR

CSR success stories (for inspiration and motivation!)

Support our causes and buy some merchandise

You can support the Fuze Ecoteer projects and supported organisations by buying their merchandise.  A minimum of 60% of your fee goes directly towards the conservation cause linked to that product.  The other percentage is for production costs.

Turtle Adoption

You can adopt one of our turtles in the Perhentian islands.  Through our turtle photo ID database we have identified over 260 turtles that have been seen around the Perhentian Islands.  Support our important conservation and adopt today.

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