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Research Friday: Corporate Volunteer Programs: Synergy in Business and Nonprofit Actions

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit scholar or practitioner to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Many volunteer managers cite recruitment as their greatest challenge; however, Brudney and Meijs (2009) contend that “the preoccupation with recruitment distracts attention and resources from the management and retention of volunteers” (p. 568). If their argument holds, of increasing importance is the need for volunteer managers to identify and cultivate volunteer sources that have potential for growth and replenishment. One such source, which is intensely under-cultivated, lies in the for-profit sector: the corporate volunteer.

Orchestrated effectively, a corporate volunteer program has the potential to render benefits not only to the nonprofit, but to the corporation as well. The hours of unpaid labor afforded by such programs is the obvious contribution to the nonprofit organization. Often overlooked, however, are the many benefits that can be provided to the corporation. A Walker research survey confirmed that a company’s perceived community involvement affects consumers’ spending habits, concluding that “47 percent of the consumers surveyed would be more likely to buy from a ‘good’ company, if quality, price and service were equal… 70 percent would not buy from a company that was not socially responsible” (McAlister and Ferrell, 2002, p. 696). A Cone/Roper report supports the Walker conclusions, noting that two-thirds of Americans claim to be more likely to support a company that aligns with a social issue (Phillips Business Information Inc., 2000, p. 1).

Corporations also stand to benefit from positive effects on their staff, including the camaraderie and morale-boosting that tend to result. Chris Jarvis (2010) points out that volunteer programs can offer additional skill development, improved morale and productivity, as well as a more cooperative corporate culture. Jarvis (2010) claims that volunteer programs have the capacity to save corporations $500 per employee in training, recruitment and turnover expenses. When approaching corporations to initiate a volunteer program, volunteer managers could undoubtedly utilize these figures as incentives for the corporate involvement.

Once the corporation is sold on the idea of partnering with a nonprofit organization, keeping their attention is of utmost importance to ongoing collaboration. One of the most important ways to achieve this is providing creativity with corporate volunteer job duties. An initial survey to determine what the group, as well as the what the individuals hope to attain from the experience will help the volunteer manager ascertain where the best fit will be. Another way to introduce corporate volunteers to the nonprofit  is to organize an event that allows for mutual interaction and discussion of expectations.

Many nonprofits are finding the most success when their mission aligns with the corporations’ brands. Examples of such partnerships include Habitat for Humanity and Home Depot or Pet Smart and local animal rescue shelters. In such cases, the corporation also garners positive public relations through attaching its name to the mission of the organization. Of course, reputation is also important to nonprofits; thus, nonprofits should ensure that they are collaborating with socially responsible corporations. For both the business and the nonprofit, development of corporate volunteer programs has the potential for mission advancement, staff recruitment and development, improved reputation, and increased visibility. Ongoing mindfulness to the alignment of missions and values will help assure that the partnership is both successful and equally beneficial.

Annette is a student in the Master of Nonprofit Studies program at ASU. She previously served a term for AmeriCorps with an adult literacy program in Flagstaff. She hopes to continue growing in a leadership role in the sector and to one day serve as an executive director.

Brudney, J. and Meijs, L. (2009). It ain’t natural: Toward a new (natural) resource conceptualization for volunteer management. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 38(4), 564-581.

Jarvis, C. (2010). The fundamentals of building an employee volunteer program. Retrieved on 25 October 2011 from:

McAlister, D. and Ferrell, L. (2002). The role of strategic philanthropy in marketing strategy. European Journal of Marketing. 36(5/6), 689-743. Accessed through ABI/INFORM Complete on 25 October 2011.
Phillips Business Information, Inc. (2002). Philanthropy, reputation go hand in hand. PR News 56(3), p. 1-4.



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