Now entering its third year, the Skills-Based Volunteer Program at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA) is focused on making high impact, long-term progressive change for select nonprofit partners. To meet this end, BCBSMA recognizes the importance of leveraging local talent when implementing an impactful corporate citizenship initiative. This talent forms the foundation of the Skills-Based Volunteer Program in which recruited employees are paired with local nonprofit organizations that have a need for their particular skills and experience. Associates provide a wide variety of skills and expertise in traditional business functions, including human resources, finance and operations.
In partnership with the Human Resources Department, the Corporate Citizenship team established this program as a way to build the internal capacity of its nonprofit partners while creating an outlet to develop and showcase its employees’ core competencies. “We wanted to deepen BCBSMA’s support of its community partners by leveraging our most strategic investment – our associates, their skills, and their expertise,” explained Lucy Darragh, Director of Corporate Citizenship at BCBSMA. To fully realize the potential of such an initiative, BCBSMA reached out to Common Impact, a local nonprofit organization that facilitates cross-sector partnerships designed to tackle community challenges.
The program is executed over a seven-month period and is divided into five main stages:
- Recruiting participants (both nonprofits and BCBSMA associates)
- Orientation and kickoff activities
- Associate and nonprofit leader meetings (weekly or biweekly) and ongoing project work
- Internal associate peer discussions, providing opportunities for all participating associates to meet and share best practices and lessons learned
- Wrap-up activities and evaluation
Internally, the program is coordinated by a small cross-functional team of representatives from Corporate Citizenship, Human Resources and the Business Consulting Group, an internal consulting department. This collaborative approach allows BCBSMA to identify the employees most suited for each of its nonprofit partners.
The nonprofit recipient organizations are also selected based on their overall fit for this program. “The Leadership Team sources our nonprofit partners by sending them applications and conducting follow-up interviews. Based on the information they provide, we select those that align best with the skills of our volunteers,” Darragh said. The application provides the Leadership Team with a starting point for assessing nonprofit need. A member of the Leadership Team further discusses the project needs with each nonprofit applicant to help identify the scope of the project and understand exactly what skill sets are needed to successfully execute the project. Nonprofit organization are selected based on their mission’s alignment with BCBSMA’s Corporate Citizenship focus areas, whether the project can be completed within the program’s timeframe and whether BCBSMA has the necessary associates/skill sets to match the needs addressed in the project.
This is not a casual arrangement. Once selected, employees are expected to commit approximately 70 hours of volunteer service to the program over a four- to five-month period. According to Darragh, an essential part of the program is the recurring meetings between the associate volunteer teams and the nonprofit leader. “These meetings allow the teams to tweak their project work as needed to be sure the final deliverables are tailored to the specific needs of each organization and the nonprofit leader,” she added. The Leadership Team also conducts a midpoint check-in with each team to ensure that the project is on track. Through surveys and associate feedback, BCBSMA is able to track project-specific impact based on the objectives, goals and scope established for each project. “In 2013 alone, our associates contributed close to $430,000 in pro bono service hours through the Skills-Based Volunteer Program,” Darragh noted.
The continued success of the Skills-Based Volunteer Program at BCBSMA can be attributed to the ongoing support from leadership and the cross-functional collaboration with the HR team. In addition to promoting BCBSMA’s Corporate Citizenship platform, associates can have a direct impact on an issue that resonates with them. The program also gives participants an opportunity to build their skills and explore ways to use them in a different avenue, expanding their professional and personal experience.
“This program is an essential part of our commitment to fostering a high performance culture – one that emphasizes leadership development, opportunities to showcase associate talent, and ongoing professional development, no matter your career stage,” Darragh remarked.