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Employee Volunteering Must Be Transformative, Not Just Transactional

10 August 2016 at 9:33 am
Chris Jarvis
Transformative volunteering programs promise engaged staff, improved job performance and organisational resilience writes Chris Jarvis, co-founder and CEO of global CSR consulting firm Realized Worth.

Chris Jarvis | 10 August 2016 at 9:33 am


Employee Volunteering Must Be Transformative, Not Just Transactional
10 August 2016 at 9:33 am

Transformative volunteering programs promise engaged staff, improved job performance and organisational resilience writes Chris Jarvis, co-founder and CEO of global CSR consulting firm Realized Worth.

hands in volunteering

Most employee volunteering programs are designed to facilitate a transactional experience where there is an exchange of some type between the volunteer and the participant. A lot of good can come of this approach to volunteering.

However, transactional volunteering tends to leave the volunteer mostly unaffected and unengaged. In order to realise the true benefits of employee volunteering, our programs must become transformative.

What is transformative volunteering?

Transformative volunteering creates space for participants to reach beyond the immediate contexts and circumstances of themselves and their communities. Instead of simply exchanging time or resources for the reward of making a difference, volunteers are guided to consider their potential to become increasingly pro-social human beings with a greater capacity for empathy.

The primary focus of transformative volunteering is the change that occurs in the volunteers themselves. Volunteering programs and activities are designed to invite all participants to “engage in critical reflection on their experiences, which in turn leads to a perspective transformation”. This transformation in an individual’s perspective is necessary to achieve change at the psychological, convictional and behavioural level.

What is transactional volunteering?

Transactional volunteering is the voluntary giving of one’s time, knowledge, social network, expertise, skills, abilities, experience, knowledge, training, or insight for the benefit of another without any expectation of direct or commensurate compensation.  The “reward” is typically the knowledge that one was able to “make a difference” by helping solve a problem or advance a cause.

Four reasons to adopt the transformative model

  1. Increased levels of affective commitment

Employees who are enabled to act pro-socially (give, volunteer, and otherwise “do good” for their colleagues or communities) are likely to respond with increased affective commitment to their organisation. In this context, commitment refers to the degree of attachment an individual feels toward the organisation he or she works for. If you’re a manager or the leader of a company, this is something you obsess about. Do my employees want to stay? Will they stick it out through tough times? Do they believe in this organisation as much as I do? Read more here.

  1. Improved job performance

Research indicates that: “volunteering was associated with both volunteer and job meaningfulness, and that the pull of meaningful volunteer work was even stronger when employees had less meaning in their jobs. The results further revealed benefits of volunteering for employers. Volunteering was related to job absorption but not job interference, and it was therefore associated with better job performance.”

  1. Competitive hiring position

“For recruitment practice, our results suggest that the net effect of leveraging CSR practices in employee recruitment is clearly a positive one from the perspective of a hiring organisation. The majority of our participants about two-thirds of them reported they were more attracted to the employer as a result of its community investment or environmental strategies.”

However, the research contains a very distinct and important warning. If the company’s CSR program is seen to be inauthentic or too small (it is a token effort) prospective employees will take a negative position towards the company. In those cases where a company may not be willing to substantially invest in CSR it may be better to not use citizenship programs in recruiting efforts. Additionally, community investment programs must be experienced as meaningful and relational.

  1. Improved organisational resilience

By developing leaders through an experiential process of learning that involves intentional moments of critical reflection and sensemaking, employees in leadership positions acquire the critical skills necessary to contribute to an organisation’s overall resiliency. Transformative Volunteering approaches develop leadership through the cognitive process of learning, modelling a practice of sensemaking and the creation of significance or meaning.

Equipped with this experiential knowledge, individuals possess the necessary skills and experience to contribute to the “organisation’s capacity to anticipate, respond and adapt”. Read the research here.

Realized Worth will hold a variety of corporate volunteering workshops at volunteering peak bodies across the country during the month of August. For more information on attending a session in your state or territory, please contact To find out more about the WA Corporate Volunteer Council, sponsors of the Realized Worth tour, visit here.

About the author: Chris Jarvis is the co-founder and CEO for Realized Worth, a global CSR consulting firm specialising in engaging employees in corporate volunteering and giving programs.

Chris Jarvis  |  @ProBonoNews

Chris Jarvis is co-founder and CEO of global CSR consulting firm Realized Worth.

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