What does it take to grow and inspire employees through volunteering on three continents?
Project Manager at the ALDO Group
Who He Is:
As the project manager in charge of philanthropy and community engagement for the ALDO Group, Pierre-Olivier is responsible for the management of highfive—the company's volunteering program—and the strategy development surrounding all of the organization's philanthropic and community engagement initiatives. Pierre-Olivier is an active volunteer, regularly giving his time to help the homeless and at-risk youth in the greater Montreal area. His true passion has always been to help those in need and he hopes to inspire others to also give back.
The ALDO Group is a Canadian-based retailer that owns and operates a worldwide chain of shoe and accessories stores. In 2014, 10% of ALDO Group associates were engaged in philanthropy. Today after the launch of their employee volunteering program, highfive, there is triple the portion of employees volunteering, and they’re volunteering quadruple the number of hours.
Q: What makes the highfive employee volunteering program successful?
A: Our highfive program is open for you to support your own cause. We make the program about what’s important to our associates. We offer a variety of planned activities throughout the year, but also open it up to what our associates care about without limiting it to our corporate causes.
We have an ambassador network of “volunteer champions” who really stand out from the crowd, and are present across every department. Their role is to inspire their colleagues by talking about their favorite cause and inspiring others to find their own cause. [See how skilled volunteering has been successfully scaled at 3M.]
Q: Why is volunteering important at the ALDO Group?
A: Volunteering is part of our DNA. It comes from our founder, “Mr. B” (Aldo Bensadoun). It all started with him actually. When he founded the company, his vision was to influence society in both fashion and social responsibility. From the very beginning, our company was founded with the goal of being a different kind of modern company, focused on compassion and ethics. Mr. B is our top ambassador. He’s truly inspiring.
It’s up to our community of associates and partners to continue this quest and carry the torch.
Everyone has a role to play—volunteering is simply a way of creating this world of love, confidence, and belonging.
We try to bring our associates to their full potential and to see a better version of themselves. Everyone responds positively to kindness and it feels good to give back.
Q: How do you empower your highfive volunteer ambassadors?
A: I love our ambassadors—they’re amazing. They are our associates who achieve volunteering greatness! They are role models and volunteering icons who encourage others to find a cause close to their hearts and get involved.
The ambassadors collaborate closely with us to grow the culture of giving back within their own respective team at the ALDO Group. We empower them in several ways:
We share their accomplishments with them to present them with their impact.
We recognize top volunteers once a year and make donations in their name to the cause of their choice.
We showcase their stories because storytelling is so powerful.
We engage them in our volunteering networking fair at the beginning of the year, as part of a New Year’s resolution.
Q: What are your goals for the highfive program and how do you hope to achieve them?
A: In 2016, we launched a five-year plan with three social responsibility pillars: people, planet, and partners.
Of course, we want to continue increasing the volunteer rate in our employee program. We care about quantitative impact; the online volunteering platform we’ve built tracks hours volunteered, charities supported, and meals served. But we now want to capture the qualitative impact on people externally, but also internally on our volunteers.
We hope to share these stories more because kindness inspires kindness.
We always stay closely connected to our volunteers with our ambassador network. We survey our people to get feedback on their experience in order to better support them.
Another goal is to share our online volunteering platform and continue developing it based on our needs. We hope to one day share our platform in an open-source format with other companies and with nonprofits.
Q: The ALDO Group offers volunteer opportunities on three continents. Does highfive look different in different offices?
A: Our highfive program and ambassador program is the same in every country—which is beautiful because it connects everyone. We have Community Days globally twice a year. We’re volunteering all together on the same day which is a very powerful message for our people.
What’s very different is the causes we support, because the pressing needs are different from one country to another. The needs are different, and the reality is different.
Q. What advice do you have for leaders looking to launch or grow an employee volunteering initiative at their company?
A: Volunteer programs like highfive have to be a commitment that starts internally and it’s truly imperative that all stakeholders support this objective.
For a volunteer program like highfive to work, the commitment to sustainability has to be seen as part of the company’s strategies and not be seen as just a perk.
Employees need to feel empowered to take on volunteering projects into their schedules. We provide a bank of time (commonly known as Volunteer Time Off) for all associates to go out and give back on their regular work time.
Having an internal resource like me who is committed to growing people and connecting them to charities is very important. This physical link between your community and your people and your associates shows the importance of the work.
Empower your people and give ownership to associates. Let them give back to a cause the way they want to give back and to whom they want to give back to.
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