Trying to Build Skills Through Corporate Volunteering? This New Study Shows There is a RIGHT and WRONG Way

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org, as well as an adjunct lecturer on Corporate Social Responsibility at the University of Washington Tacoma's Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility.

Microsoft developer Anand Mariappan, center, works with local tech-startup employees in Kampala, Uganda as part of Microsoft's International Skills-based Volunteering Program - MySkills4Afrika (Mariappan)
Microsoft developer Anand Mariappan, center, works with local tech-startup employees in Kampala, Uganda as part of Microsoft’s International Skills-based Volunteering Program – MySkills4Afrika (Mariappan)

Beyond playing a critical role in solving some of the most pressing challenges of our time, volunteering is also lauded for the benefits it also bestows upon the giver. Studies highlight that volunteering makes people feel wealthier, happier, healthier, and even time rich.

More recent claims also share that people develop soft and technical skills through volunteering; with leadership, collaboration, and innovation being some of the most frequently mentioned.

Indeed, in the programs we manage, we see consistent skill development being reported by the very people that are also solving real world challenges. However, we are the first to highlight that there is a right and wrong way to volunteer to both ensure a real impact is being made AND that skills are being developed by the volunteer. We call this Experteering.

A new study by David A. Jones, professor in the Grossman School of Business at the University of Vermont, set out to test “the extent to which employee volunteers’ self-reported skill development reflects the characteristics of the volunteers and their volunteering experiences“. The study firmly stated that

  1. …employees who practiced specific skills more often during their volunteering experience reported greater improvements in those skill
  2. Improvements in some skills were higher among employee volunteers who completed a greater number of pre-volunteering preparation courses
  3. …must include meaningful work that takes volunteers outside their comfort zone

 

At MovingWorlds, we’re thrilled to see this new and rigorous research as it strongly enforces our own methods for connecting people to Experteering projects:

  1. They must be real projects identified by local operators
  2. They are skills-based projects
  3. Experteers must go through a thorough planning process, which includes learning, goal setting, and reflection
To teach is to learn twice: Ashanka, pictured here, is teaching strategy skills and process. (Photo by Ashanka Iddya)
To teach is to learn twice: Ashanka, pictured here, is teaching strategy skills and process. (Photo by Ashanka Iddya, also featured in SSIR article: Optimizing International Corporate Volunteer Programs)

The benefits of skills-based volunteering are indeed vast, and this is why we see companies gravitating to more skills-based volunteer programs. This is a very important shift for the world at large, too. One of the leading barriers to progress is a lack of access to talent, so when people volunteer their real skills, they’re doing more to solve the biggest challenges of our time. According to David:

While more research is needed to better understand how to best promote employee skill development through volunteering, it seems clear that corporate volunteering programs can lead to a win-win-win for employers, employees and the communities they serve.

However, David also warns that many corporations do not follow this formula “Many other settings in which employees volunteer do not include all three, or even any, of these conditions. Some are largely limited to one-day events where employees pick up garbage or raise money for a cause they didn’t choose to support.” While day-of volunteer events might make for OK publicity, they create very little impact for volunteers, and often times even less for the organizations they try to support.

As we shared in Fast Company, programs needs to be designed around the people they engage. While these “human centered” programs were once more challenging to launch, technological and process innovations, like the MovingWorlds system, make it easy to manage and scale programs like this.

It’s exciting to see more research being done on the benefits of volunteering, especially skills-based volunteering, and we look forward to see what the next studies show!

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