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Volunteering for Impact: Best Practices in International Corporate Volunteering

Adeeb Mahmud and Greg Hills

Multinational corporations invest significant time and money to deploy employee volunteers throughout the world. A range of international corporate volunteering (ICV) programs have emerged in recent years with an estimated 40 percent of major corporations supporting employee volunteering efforts around the world. International corporate volunteering, or ICV, refers to the practice of engaging employees in service projects in countries outside of the company’s headquarters country. ICV includes two principal models: local service, in which employees based in countries outside headquarters volunteer in their local communities; and cross-border service, in which employees travel abroad to volunteer.

Similar to corporate grantmaking, corporate volunteering suffers from a disproportionate emphasis on the quantity of activity rather than potential impact. Just as corporate giving focuses on metrics like total grantmaking dollars, the typical corporate volunteering program highlights numbers of volunteers and total hours of service. Corporations neither regularly articulate the strategic purpose nor measure the social impact of volunteering. They justify ICV programs based on improved employee morale and contributions toward corporate citizenship. While these traditional motivations are valuable, they set a low bar of expectations that ignores volunteering’s potential for increasing business or social impact.

To increase the overall understanding and effectiveness of these programs, Pfizer and The Brookings Institution engaged FSG Social Impact Advisors to research and analyze best practices in the field. This paper seeks to explore and understand the lessons learned among major corporations, and is intended to be a first step toward creating a more structured and systematic understanding of the landscape of ICV. It provides an analysis of a sample of leading corporate programs, suggests ways in which corporations can more strategically align volunteering programs with their businesses, and provides recommendations for companies to consider for the future.

View the study backgrounder

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