By: Dan Kamins, Director of Employee Engagement and Volunteerism at MetLife;

Going Beyond Traditional Volunteerism and Engagement

– Over the last decade, Sustainability – or Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Citizenship, ESG Management, or any one of the myriad terms meaning the same thing – has shifted from being a “nice-to-have” to a “must-do” for companies. Sustainability, social responsibility, and managing ESG issues are increasingly important to key stakeholders – investors want to see long-term value creation, customers want to see responsible business practices, and employees expect their company to make a positive impact on society. One critical component of all of this is employee engagement. As the landscape around employee engagement has evolved and employees are more interested in giving back, practitioners face a dilemma: continue with existing engagement opportunities or shift resources away from “traditional” projects in the communities where we live and work?

There isn’t necessarily a right answer to this question. Often, company culture will dictate the type of volunteerism in which employees engage. At MetLife, while we still offer significant traditional community-based volunteer opportunities, we also allocate resources to finding other ways to engage employees. This includes pro bono service, volunteerism combined with internal networking opportunities, and virtual opportunities that minimize barriers of distance and time.

Pro Bono Volunteerism

One of the most valuable assets that MetLife volunteers bring to their engagements is their job skills.  Time and time again, we hear from nonprofit partners that there is an opportunity to leverage skilled employees to help them solve a pressing business challenge. Similarly, we hear from employees that they would like to apply their expertise in a new, impactful setting. Simply put, nonprofit partners often lack the resources (professional skills or funds) to effectively address a challenge, and our employees have that expertise and an appetite to serve. Through the Foundation’s partnerships with Bankers without Borders and Taproot Foundation, we have been able to build a robust suite of pro bono offerings, including single-day, longer-term (a few hours a week for three months), and global opportunities that connect skilled MetLife employees with a nonprofit/NGO.

Volunteering Mixed with Networking

Volunteerism can be expanded to become an internal networking tool. When our Diversity and Inclusion teams (called Diversity Business Resource Networks, or DBRNs) hold events onsite, we often work with them to build in time or activities that encourage DBRN members to get to know each other better.  Whether that means stuffing backpacks before the first day of school, packaging food for local shelters, or working in tandem to put together a no-sew blanket, DBRN leaders have tried to find time for social activities before or after volunteering, and DRBN members have reported that networking is a valuable addition to volunteer offerings.

Virtual Volunteerism

Employees overwhelmingly say that they want to volunteer, but also find it hard to get away from their desk. To best meet the needs of these employees, MetLife Foundation has created virtual volunteer partnerships. The Foundation’s partnership with TutorMate allows MetLife employees to volunteer from their desks – through a web application and a scheduled 30-minute weekly meeting, employees help elementary school students learn to read. Employees looking for opportunities to help entrepreneurs start or grow their business can serve as mentors or advisors through several programs, and those looking to use their job skills can participate in long-term pro bono volunteerism on a weekly basis.

Additional Engagement

To bring MetLife Foundation’s focus on financial health to life for MetLife employees and make MLFs work more tangible, the Foundation partners with organizations that go beyond volunteerism. One example is the Foundation’s partnership with Kiva – a nonprofit that provides funding to entrepreneurs around the world. Through a grant from the Foundation, MetLife employees have had multiple opportunities to direct Foundation funds to low-income borrowers seeking microloans to start a business or attain further education. This allows MetLife employees to both direct funds to an entrepreneur and to build deeper awareness of the work that MetLife Foundation does. Feedback from employees has been overwhelmingly positive, with some employees continuing to lend personally.

Driving Volunteerism

There isn’t a right answer to what type of volunteerism is right for your company. By shifting focus away from traditional volunteerism to pro bono, virtual and other opportunities, MetLife has been able to create meaningful experiences that engage more employees, impact more people and better align with the company’s purpose and values.