pay employees to volunteer
28 Mar
  • By Dayle Kavonic
  • Cause in

Embrace CSR Like Google: Pay Employees to Volunteer

Google has long been a leader in the realm of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Aside from giving NPOs free access to premium digital products, the company has also, through its philanthropic division,, donated millions in grants and offered critical advisory services and technical expertise to a range of social organisations in need of support.

But in January 2019, the multinational corporation seriously upped its humanitarian game with the launch of Fellowships. This incredible programme, which was piloted with great success in 2018, gives Google employees paid time off to work at NPOs that require their assistance. And not just for a few weeks; for up to six months. Staff members are embedded in these organisations full time for this period and use their digital skills and know-how to help host bodies solve complex problems and get closer to achieving their goals.

The potential impact of such an immersive initiative is enormous.

Think about it: NPOs are notoriously constrained by small teams and rudimentary technical knowledge. Now, Fellowships is giving nonprofits what they need most: access to human resources and full-time support from experts in advanced fields, like machine learning and data science.

Watch this moving video to learn more about how the programme is making a difference:



Could Paid Volunteering Sabbaticals be Part of Your CSR Strategy Too?

The question is, can, and should, South African businesses – your business – follow in Google’s footsteps and give staff extended breaks to do pro-bono work?

The need for it is clear. There are hundreds of NPOs that could do with support in this country, and it doesn’t matter what skills your employees have, there’ll be an organisation somewhere that’s desperate for them. Every single NPO needs help with tasks like finance management, marketing, fundraising, copywriting and business development, for instance.

But understandably, the owners of local companies, especially small businesses, might be nervous about the idea of paying staff who are no longer directly contributing to the enterprise’s bottom line. And for up to six months, too. Google might have the funds for that, but not everyone does. It’s an investment – a hefty investment for many – and so it’s worth asking the same sort of questions we might if we were actually trading: Will it be worth it? What are the potential returns?

It turns out, they’re great, and not just for the community. We’ve already discussed the many undeniable business benefits of CSR: it boosts employee morale, improves loyalty and talent retention rates, ups staff productivity and satisfaction and promotes a positive brand image. But after Google’s pilot project, which saw five Googlers spend time helping Thorn, a company that builds technology to end the sexual exploitation of children, the corporation found there were many other gains, too. Most notably, employees returned with improved soft skills, especially leadership skills, and a totally different understanding of how their competencies could be applied to foster real change.

In a Fast Company article, Julie Cordua, CEO of Thorn, was quoted as saying that Google employees who spent time at her NPO showed “a significant change in their thinking about how technology can positively impact the world”.

Sometimes, at corporates, we get so caught up in office life that we become disconnected from how our products and services are actually being used in the real world, and we grow somewhat uninspired. Given this truth, just imagine how much employees returning from paid volunteering sabbaticals can reinvigorate their companies.

Pro-bono CSR programmes like Fellowships can also help with recruitment. It’s been well documented that most millennials only want to work for companies that offer corporate volunteering opportunities. So if you want to attract the best young talent, you can start with implementing a paid-time-off project like Google’s.


A Powerful Employee Incentive

Notably, the Fellowships opportunity is not granted to every single Google employee. Staff members have to apply to become fellows, and they go through an extensive review and selection process that involves both questionnaires and interviews.

That means only those who would find volunteering particularly meaningful are likely to apply. And the opportunity can be reserved for highly motivated, hard-working employees who are likely to benefit the most.  If you apply a similar strategy at your own business, you could use pro-bono work as an incentive for committed staff members, and in so doing, increase the return on investment even more. Of course, you’ll also be helping to make the world a better place. And nothing beats that.


Eager to pay employees to volunteer as part of your CSR efforts? Get in touch with us and we’ll help you connect with NPOs that would warmly welcome assistance from your staff members.


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Dayle Kavonic

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