Corporate-NGO Partnerships in China: Fostering Employee Volunteer Programs

June 8, 2012
  • Brooke Avory

    Former Manager, BSR

This post is the second in a three-part blog series. We highlight our latest observations and findings on corporate-NGO and foundation-NGO partnerships gleaned from “Social Innovation Week,” a three-day program of roundtable discussions, workshops, and exhibitions to promote social innovation among Chinese nonprofits.The first blog highlights innovative social and environmental projects from finalists of the BSR CiYuan initiative-supported Corporate-NGO Partnership Award. The third post explores foundation-NGO partnerships.

Corporate-NGO partnerships are increasing in China, but most follow a fairly traditional, PR-driven formula. Some companies are just looking to donate to a ready-made philanthropy program or basic ways for their staff to volunteer in community activities, which tend to be unrelated to their core business. Furthermore, these programs are typically limited in the ways they engage with nonprofits to foster a complimentary exchange of resources and alignment of organizational missions.

Recently, BSR partnered with AmCham Shanghai to host a forum called “NGOs Meet Business: A Workshop on Collaboration & Innovation.” The event, one of many on cross-sector partnerships that we are holding this year as part of BSR’s CiYuan Initiative, brought together AmCham’s corporate members with representatives from the local and national nonprofit communities as part of activities for Social Innovation Week.   

The Forum shared experiences from three partnerships from the perspectives of private and nonprofit partners, with employee volunteering as a central focus. Employee volunteering is growing in popularity in China and is a straightforward way to engage staff in community programs. Based on insights from speakers and questions from participants, I’ve developed five tips for companies on how to establish employee ownership and increase engagement with community programs:

  • Put employees at the center: Obtain their input on program selection, development, promotion, execution, and evaluation. Encourage participation: for example, through an online survey where employees vote on a particular issue or program.
  • Leverage employee skills: Identify distinct roles and maximize ways employees can engage based on their skill sets: for example, pro-bono volunteering is a way for employees to apply their professional expertise, be it in marketing, strategy, administration, IT, or finance, to build the capacity of local nonprofits.
  • Establish volunteerism as part of corporate culture: Some employees may need encouragement to get involved, particularly for a first-time program. Holding information sessions where they are invited to respond (on the spot or later) may help employees take an active role.
  • Engage with the community: Consider innovative ways employees can increase awareness of the program. Apart from online tools such as social media, employees can promote the program through their social circles, which can help reach a broader audience of teachers, peers, and parents.
  • Celebrate participation: Formally recognize employees’ contributions to a community program or the company’s corporate culture through matching funding, award ceremonies, and employee performance evaluations.

BSR supports the corporate-NGO partnership among Chinese nonprofit Huizren, Intel, HP, and the Taproot Foundation to develop a platform to support pro-bono volunteering in China. I look forward to sharing more tips on employee volunteering programs after our evaluation of this pilot. Partnerships with an employee engagement component, such as those discussed in the Forum, can empower employees to address issues important to them, build loyalty, enhance their leadership skills, and foster a sense of community spirit within an organization—all with positive impacts on their communities.

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