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How Volunteerism Enhances Workplace Skills


Corporate sponsorship of skills-based volunteering programs is now part of most CSR programs. So those working in this field know its benefits for the nonprofits and its value to the dedicated employee volunteers. I’ve written articles recognizing how volunteer programs are good for both nonprofits and employee volunteers. It’s easy to assume everyone sees the benefits.  

But one should never assume.  

Amanda Shantz and Kiera Dempsey-Brench challenged the assumption that employees see the benefits of skills-based volunteering in their article, How Volunteerism Enhances Workplace Skills, published in the MIT Sloan Management Review. They spent a year interviewing corporate relations teams and volunteers in the UK and Ireland and report the surprising results.  

I reached out to Dr. Shantz, Professor of Management and MBA Director at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, inviting her to tell us more.  

In our conversation, she explained that about two-thirds of the interviewees may not have realized they learned valuable skills while volunteering. However, when she and Kiera introduced the idea, the employee volunteers embraced the concept that they too get something out of providing their expertise to nonprofit partners.  

But in her article, Dr. Shantz says this reaction was not universal.  

Even more surprisingly, the remaining third of our interviewees responded defensively or expressed outright anger at the suggestion that they could use volunteering for personal or employer gain. Many volunteers were enraged by the idea that volunteering could be more than giving back to the community and refused to view it as an opportunity to develop skills.  

“How can we validate the idea that gaining skills while volunteering doesn’t diminish the altruistic value of the experience?” I asked.  

“The magic lies in figuring out how to optimize the gains between the two. Explaining the connection can be a challenge, especially for nonprofits. Corporations can help by including what I call sense-making sessions,” Shantz said.  

She explained that the HR department often misses opportunities to collaborate with CSR leaders to build employee engagement, learning, and development while building trust in the company’s purpose.  

I urge you to listen to the complete interview and hear how real positive change is happening. We envision pathways beyond traditional labor roles accomplishing specific tasks to co-create transformational experiences.  

Skills-based volunteering can reach the next level of communicating the values of corporate social responsibility while inspiring employees. Then we will achieve the triple win—for employees, business, and nonprofit goals.  

Photo of Amanda Shantz, Professor of Management and MBA Director at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland

Amanda Shantz,
Professor of Management and MBA Director at the University of St. Gallen

Amanda Shantz is a Professor of Management and MBA Director at the University of St. Gallen. She acquired her undergraduate degree at McGill University, her MSc at the London School of Economics, and her PhD at the University of Toronto. Amanda has been teaching, researching, and publishing in human resource management and organizational behavior for 15 years. She has published over 45 peer-reviewed academic articles, has won several awards for her research, and she is actively involved in the organizations in which she conducts research. Recently, her research interests have turned to employee volunteering because it is a clear way that firms can make a significant difference in addressing today’s grand challenges, and it has the potential to motivate and develop employees. She has published a systematic literature review of research at the nexus of skills and volunteering in Human Resource Management Review, and a case study of how employees respond to skills-based volunteering in MIT Sloan Management Review. She is currently embarking on a new study that will explore how stakeholders of volunteering programs leverage each other’s knowledge and connections to develop these programs. Please get in touch if you’re interested in participating in her research: amanda.shantz@unisg.ch