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Does the Emperor Have Clothes? A Closer Look at Employee Volunteering

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For quite some time the notion of “corporate social responsibility” has been discussed and demonstrated in various ways. The concept includes many things, from producing products in environmentally-safe ways to providing family-friendly working conditions, yet our field more narrowly looks for whether a company is philanthropic or charitable, both through financial donations and in offering the talents of its employees to the community.

American companies have led the way in corporate employee volunteer programs, just as they have in setting up corporate foundations and other giving. But the idea has caught on worldwide, spurred by multinational companies, and today there are efforts underway in many countries to increase business community involvement and teach best practices in this type of activity. By and large, the volunteer field has been uncritical of this development, welcoming whatever help we can get from any source without much analysis of the process. Here Susan and Steve take a stab at examining workplace volunteering more closely...and arrive at different conclusions.

Susan’s Point of View

I admit to some concern over corporate employee volunteering practices, though I hasten to note right away that nothing I say is meant to disparage the actual volunteers who come through such programs. Universally, the individual employee is delighted to have the company-sanctioned chance to do community service and we should neither discourage nor refuse such volunteering. My issues are with the employer and the often disproportionate praise we heap on companies for what is, essentially, the effort of their workers.

And Steve Counters

The problem with being a perfectionist is that you have so many opportunities to be dissatisfied.

Sure, there are warts in corporate involvement:

  • Not all companies provide adequate support for their volunteer program.
  • Some companies probably influence the kind of volunteer projects chosen in ulterior ways.
  • Employees are sometimes coerced into “volunteering.”
  • Many efforts are confused and muddled.

So, what else is new in the world of volunteering?