Skills-based volunteering: Innovation and impact

3M Video

3M offers employees career-oriented volunteer opportunities so their community involvement doubles as professional development. To gain the tools to create highly valued volunteer programs, take the Fundamentals of Employee Volunteer Programs course at the Accelerated Certificate Summit.

Skills-based volunteering is one clear and effective way to provide professional development opportunities, and may even increase employee retention.[1] In addition to deepening employees’ commitment to an organization, volunteering typically is an enjoyable way for workers to learn about themselves and one another, as well as the communities in which they live and work.

3M supports skills-based volunteering opportunities that enable employees to share their professional expertise with communities around the world. With more than 60,000 products—including recogniz­able brands such as Post-it, Scotch, and Command—3M has an unmistakable presence in homes, schools, businesses, and hospitals in 200 countries around the globe. Since its inception in 1902, the company has established itself as an innovator, both in the products it creates—one-third of 3M’s sales come from products invented during the past five years—as well as in how its employees approach problem solving.

Embracing the power of curiosity and discovery, 3M encourages its employees—3Mers—to be creative not only in their daily work, but also as volunteers in the communities in which the company operates. The company offers “FlexAbility for volunteering” during workdays, recognizing that volunteering enhances the quality of life in communities, as well as the engagement of individual employees. 3M enjoys strong turnout from volunteers—during 2018, 3Mers logged 333,000 volunteer hours, thousands of which were executed through 3M Impact, which encompasses the company’s skills-based service programs.

On a global scale, the company sends teams of 3Mers from around the world to international locations through 3M Impact Global, which since 2017 has collab­orated with nonprofit organizations, social enterprises, and government agencies focused on 3M priority focus areas such as sustainable waste management, climate change, and STEAM education. Examples of projects range from developing a structured curriculum for elementary classes to execute virtual STEAM classes in rural China, to designing a cost-efficient and environ-mentally friendly system to collect, segregate, and trans­port waste materials in Panama. Participants spend two weeks abroad, as paid working time, to provide consul­tation, recommendations, and action plans to help local community organizations become more operationally efficient, achieve cost savings, expand their reach, and increase their overall impact.

“With 3M Impact Global, we leverage the skills and expertise of our diverse team to create tangible solutions and recommendations that are sustainable and achiev­able for local nonprofit organizations. This is how we help catalyze the company’s vision of 3M Innovation improving every life,” said Rohit Balan, a sales manager for 3M United Arab Emirates.

In 2019, 125 participants traveled to nine different countries for 3M Impact Global. Given the success of the program, 3M Impact expanded to include 3M Impact Local, which enables 3Mers to partner with host organizations in their own communities (no travel necessary), and 3M Impact in a Day, a hackathon model where 3Mers spend a half day with commu­nity nonprofits seeking functional expertise.

3M Impact isn’t the only way for 3Mers to use their skills. As a science-oriented company, 3M understands the importance of supporting student interest and achievement in STEM fields specifically. In addition to supporting STEM via 3M Impact projects and commu­nity initiatives, 3M developed its own programs to pro­vide opportunities for the next generation of scientists to see how science is applied to life. One such program is 3M Visiting Wizards, where 3M volunteers or “wizards” share the magic of science with students through science demonstrations and hands-on experiments. The 3M Visiting Wizards kits, utilized globally, inspire students to become interested in a variety of scientific topics such as air and vacuum, electricity and simple circuits, and magnets.

The powers of skills-based volunteering lie in employees creating ways to leverage their individual strengths. As volunteers out in the community—whether in Vietnam, Panama, or Minnesota—3Mers are carrying out the company’s vision and demonstrating, through their individual efforts, the tremendous impact science and technology can have on the lives of others.

To gain the tools to create highly valued volunteer programs, take the Fundamentals of Employee Volunteer Programs course at the Accelerated Certificate Summit.


[1] Bode, C., Singh, J., and Rogan. M. (2015). Corporate Social Initiatives and Employee Retention. Organization Science, 26(6).