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“Everything has to start with empathy,” was the clear and simple message of Bill’s SAPPHIRE NOW keynote this year in Orlando, Florida. Empathy is “the ability to understand and share someone else’s experiences and feelings.” Only by putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes can we hope to understand how to help them reach their full potential. But what can we do to heighten our ability to empathize?

Our Corporate Social Responsibility team has spent a lot of time this year thinking about how our volunteering programs can catalyze employee’s understanding of what it means to “start with empathy.” Going into our 12th annual Month of Service, volunteering is strongly embedded in our corporate culture. Last year alone, employees gave 262,460 hours of service, more than 100,000 of which happened during Month of Service. While the dedication to service at this company is clear, we began to see the deeper opportunity that volunteering has—to challenge us to look beyond our own daily lives, embrace differences and build bridges with people with whom we wouldn't normally interact—ultimately enabling us to better lead and connect with our colleagues, customers and partners.

Until you walk a Mile…

We all lead busy lives whether it’s work, family, kids, hobbies, or clubs. Intentional or not, most people tend to interact with others in a recognizable comfort zone. Volunteering for a cause in your community is a way to break out of that zone. When we step outside our everyday activities to offer our time and lend our abilities where help is needed, we have the opportunity to step into someone else’s reality and begin to comprehend not only the circumstances of another’s life, but the way they may experience the world as a result of those circumstances. Only by interacting with our broader communities and critically reflecting on the experience can we break down silos, overcome biases, and increase our capacity to build empathy for people in situations vastly different from our own.

…learn what’s in it for yourself

Volunteering for corporate initiatives delivers many benefits – not just for employees, but for the company as a whole and to the organizations we support (see “Triple Impact box below). Now that we are into Month of Service - our biggest volunteering event-, setting time aside to volunteer means employees have the opportunity to reconnect with and build deeper ties to their community. Transferring these skills to our personal and professional life can help us to develop as a leader and better serve our customers, ultimately helping the world run better and improve people’s lives. That is why SAP offers many volunteering opportunities, not only during Month of Service, but throughout the whole year.



The triple impact of volunteering

Corporate volunteering opportunities at SAP run the gambit, from local playground builds to high skill, pro-bono engagements in the far reaches of the globe. Our overall approach focuses on the “triple-impact” benefits of volunteering on 1) our employees, 2) our company and 3) the organizations we support.

Impacting our employees

Most people start volunteering with an intrinsic interest in helping others. While altruism is an important part of volunteering, there are also benefits for volunteers – from enriching personal, social and emotional capabilities (such as empathy!) to valuable problem-solving, competence and leadership skills. In surveys with our Social Sabbatical program participants and their managers, 94% believe that transferring the learnings from their volunteer projects to their work will lead to positive business impacts for SAP. And the vast majority agree that they are better able to ensure customer success, drive simplicity and develop amazing talents as a result of their participation. External studies also show that volunteering enhances employee productivity and 84% of those responsible for hiring agree that volunteering helps applicants find work.

Impacting our company

There is ample evidence that company-supported volunteering can contribute to greater business success. Corporate volunteering helps recruit talents and engage and retain employees. Today’s workforce expects volunteering to be a part of their professional careers. At the same time, volunteering increases the loyalty of millennial employees towards their company and makes them more likely to recommend their company to others. Corporate volunteering also has direct impact on employee engagement which is a key driver of business success. And a recent Gallup meta-analysis showed that high employee engagement improves business performance across key metrics: profitability + 16%, productivity + 18%, customer loyalty + 12%, and quality up an incredible 60%.

Impacting the organizations we support

Beyond the benefits to companies and their employees, corporate volunteering is of course beneficial to the non-profit receiving volunteer services. Increasingly, nonprofit organizations and businesses are looking for partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Intensified relationships bring additional resources beyond monetary donations to partners like equipment, products or skills and knowledge. Additionally, volunteers may educate the organization’s core staff in their technical and professional field of expertise leaving behind additional capacity. By showing strong commitment to the organizations cause, volunteers can become ambassadors to the communities in which they live and work.