The Business of Volunteering Is Business for Millennials
They want to change the world, but they're afraid they may not be able to earn a living. They believe in entrepreneurship, but are concerned about the economy. They believe that technology has made it easier to get a job and that it creates opportunities for everyone, but they also believe it has widened the gap between rich and poor. And that's something many of them want to do something about.
I'm talking, of course, about millennials. A study by Telefonica, one of the most comprehensive to date, shows a generation in flux, one determined to bring about change, but also concerned about where it will be when it grows up.
Do good and do well.
Bringing about change is important for many of them; the study shows that 62 percent of millennials believe that they can make a difference in their local communities, while 40 percent believe their efforts can change things on a global level. Almost everywhere in the world (except in the Middle East and Africa), social inequality is rated as the most pressing issue, right behind the economy.
But, millennials also have more personal concerns. Overall, 63 percent believe they will have a hard time finding a job when they leave school, and 39 percent believe they will have to keep working well beyond retirement age.
As a result, you can expect millennials to work hard to make sure that they don't fall behind. But what about those ideals? If they are working hard to make sure that they can afford the lifestyles they want, when will they have time to help others? Will they be able to help people and strive for success?
I believe the answer is yes -- and in fact, their assistance will not only help others; it will help them get better at their job, enhance their career, and improve their skills.
Good deeds create pride.
Recognizing the trend, more companies than ever sponsor community volunteer programs. According to Cone Research, two thirds of millennials won't even consider taking a job if the organization does not have strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) values; nearly 90 percent say they do a better job in CSR-friendly environments.
For many companies, that means incentivizing employees to help out -- by paying them for the hours they spend volunteering. At Deloitte, for example, volunteers are paid for all hours they participate in the company's volunteer programs -- with no limit.
Indeed, numerous studies show that the higher a company's CSR score (the more it is committed to volunteerism), the more pride employees have in their organization -- and in their job -- and the happier and more satisfied they are with their job and company. According to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, for example, “the 'good deeds' of an organization might make an employee more eager to discuss their company with outsiders, as well as feeling more committed to their organization which is doing these good things.” Happier employees make for more productive employees -- and that's good for business, the report says.
Another strategy -- one that not only helps employees work better, but can also help them develop their leadership skills -- is one I call “business volunteerism.” In this endeavor, individuals use their professional skills to help a small business or non-profit in their community. They might work to increase the firm's customer base, reach more donors, or cut costs -- the work that a more successful business or larger non-profit might hire a consultant for.
How does business volunteerism work? A foundering local deli, a beauty parlor that's not bringing in customers, a local food bank that has more requests for food than it has in its pantries -- all these are opportunities to assist the community, yes, but they are also chances for skilled individuals to actually use and improve their skills.
Thrust into the position having to save that deli, bring in more customers for that beauty parlor, or stock the shelves of that food pantry with more donated food, skilled millennials can let their pent-up managerial, entrepreneurial and executive-level skills loose. Along the way they will learn what works and what doesn't, how to apply specific skills to solve specific problems, and where their own strengths and weaknesses lie.
Meanwhile, the business or organization they help out brings in more income, which is good for the local community. Instead of one more empty downtown storefront, a business prospers, creating income for its owners and jobs for residents. The tax base goes up, and community role models emerge, providing a positive example for youth -- and for others who are trying desperately to make ends meet. It's not a fantasy; I've seen it happen, and I urge any millennial who wants to make a difference -- and make it in the business world -- to give this a try.