kylie owen, great place to work leader

Kylie Owen, Great Place to Work Leader at Cisco: 8 Corporate Volunteering Tips

Communiteer is proud to present stories of organisations that have created successful volunteer programs, lifted employee engagement levels and scaled social impact as part of our Leaders in Corporate Volunteering series. In our first event, we had the privilege to feature Kylie Owen, Great Place to Work Leader at Cisco.

Here are 8 tips on corporate volunteering from Kylie:

1. Personalise that giving – “understand how your talent would like to give back.”

Cisco has had a very long history of corporate volunteering, but while it’s always been a key part of their philosophy, they’ve also seen a massive shift. Gone are the days where giving back is what you do as a team. Nowadays, it’s more important to personalise that giving. This means it’s more important than ever before to understand how current and new talent would like to give back.

2. Conversations around giving back should be regular.

There’s no doubt that role-modelling a culture of giving back works, but does it work if you’re just doing it as a one-off?

Cisco disagrees. Instead, they believe that conversations around giving should be a regular topic of conversation. For them, this means every regular company meeting has a segment dedicated to telling stories about volunteering. Because when you talk about something regularly, it becomes a part of your company culture.

3. Let employees drive the decisions around volunteering.

Cisco has made many changes to its giving back culture, and one of the main changes is that employees have a voice in how they give back. For example, Cisco asked their employees from all demographics the things that most mattered to them, and one of the things identified was to have “my great giving back” – to do something personally meaningful as well as maintaining those team giving-back activities. This translated into every employee having 5 paid days per year volunteer at whatever cause that was personally meaningful to them, called the Time2Give program. During the pandemic, it was the employees who drove the decision to extend their Time2Give program from 5 paid days to 2 paid weeks.

4. Be more human – “too many leaders are good managers, but not good humans.”

Kylie mentioned that “too many leaders are good managers, but not good humans”, but if you want your employees to take days off to give back, they must be able to have those conversations with their leaders.

5. Give people options to volunteer.

According to Kylie, “you have to be nimble and look for different ways you can help,” which is particularly relevant in the post-COVID world. Some employees might be happy to maintain online volunteering relationships, while some are keen to get back to face-to-face volunteering. All of this should depend on a combination of individual desire, risk level, comfort level, and what you’re doing. At the end of the day, the volunteers can choose from a variety of ways to give back.

6. Volunteering doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

Kylie unexpectedly found that the most effective way to engage Cisco employees was to volunteer in short chunks – only 30 minutes at a time! As long as people are focused in these 30 minutes, feel good about it, and be able to see the impact, then voila – you’ve maximised people’s time and the impact!

7. People might not know where they want to volunteer, but you can map out opportunities for them.

It’s easy to assume that people know where they want to give their time, but this is often not the case, particularly for the younger employees. Kylie’s tip for the CSR managers is to not be afraid of mapping opportunities out for people. This means not being afraid of saying things like: “If you like to give back in these ways, then maybe you would be interested in these opportunities” or “Here are some I created earlier.” After all, you never know how much volunteering people have done.

8. Get close to the problem and your partners – they’re the experts, not you!

At the end of the day, the most effective way to give back is when you know how to be the most valuable. To do that, you need to get close to the problem, and this also means working closely with your not-for-profit partners to see what their needs are. You might even find other ways to help that you had never even considered before! Remember, your partners are the experts, not you.

Which lesson resonates with you the most? Let us know in the comments!

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