Today’s professionals want more than a paycheck; research shows that employees are increasingly looking for meaningful work. In fact, BetterUp’s “Meaning and Purpose at Work” report, which surveyed 2,285 American professionals across 26 industries, found that more than nine out of 10 employees would even trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings to experience greater meaning at work.

Volunteering and civic engagement can help organizations put their values into action and engage employees around a greater purpose. Let’s explore how Deloitte’s virtual mentoring program, in partnership with Strive for College (a nonprofit offering free online mentoring and guidance with college applications and early career decisions) became its largest, most successful employee engagement initiative — and how it’s shaping a more diverse talent pipeline for the future.

Developing Future Leaders

Launched in 2016, Deloitte’s partnership with Strive for College was born out of an ongoing commitment to helping students along their path to college and, eventually, their careers, says Alicia Rose, deputy chief executive officer of strategic initiatives at Deloitte.

Strive for College’s virtual mentoring platform, UStrive, offered Deloitte employees the chance to mentor high school students, many of whom live in rural areas without access to quality coaching and mentoring, Rose says. The program also reflects Deloitte’s commitment to improving equitable access to education: 85% of the students Strive for College works with are people of color, and 55% are Black or Latino. This focus on racial diversity is significant, as Black students in particular are less likely to have access to college-ready courses and may face bias that can hold them back.

Michael J. Carter, founder and chief executive officer of Strive for College, says that mentoring not only “opens doors” to minority students but helps “forge authentic connections that will lead to an incredibly diverse, talented pipeline of workers for the future.” From completing college applications to applying for scholarships to hearing from someone who “has successfully navigated” the process, Rose says, the program has reached over 8,000 students to date.

When employees serve as a mentor, they “learn as much about [themselves] as the community [they’re] serving,” Rose says. For example, in a LinkedIn article, Forrest Colyer, a former blockchain solutions architect at Deloitte who participated in the program, writes, “While the mentor traditionally shares advice, encouragement, and wisdom, it is the mentee’s execution, achievements, and happiness that can give far more to the mentor than they could ever give in return.” Colyer’s mentee, a New York-based Haitian immigrant with a dream of attending an Ivy League school, gained admission to Harvard, with Colyer cheering him on every step of the way.

Ultimately, virtual volunteering and civic engagement gives companies the “opportunity to stand for their values” and pioneer a more inclusive future of work, Carter says.

The Logistics

For a large, international organization like Deloitte, Rose says, a virtual employee engagement program was “spot on.” The UStrive platform has successfully matched students to Deloitte mentors residing in all 50 states. Once matched, mentors and mentees can communicate over text, video or email — communication methods that most people are now comfortable with, Rose says. To mitigate risk, the UStrive platform records all communications between mentees, most of whom are under 18 years old, and mentors.

Strive for College also trains mentors to ensure they are up to speed on the current college application process, how to apply for financial aid and scholarships, and other relevant topics. For a successful relationship, Carter says, mentors “need to be really comfortable with meeting people where they are” and be an ally for their mentee wherever they are in their journey. While one student may be looking for a long-term confidant throughout the college application process, another may simply be looking for feedback on a college admissions essay.

On the surface, virtual volunteering may seem less impactful than helping someone in person. However, “technology doesn’t have to replace humanity,” Carter says.  Rather, it can augment humanity and “bring people together who would have never met one another otherwise, if not virtually.”

The Business Case

Investing in the next generation of leaders is the right thing to do, but it also offers tangible business benefits. Helping students access higher education is one way companies can “develop potential recruits” much earlier in their careers, tapping into a talented, yet often inaccessible, talent pool, Rose says. Mentees aren’t the only ones who benefit, either. Mentoring is a “very symbiotic relationship,” Carter says. Mentors gain leadership skills like empathy and active listening, which are “important for self-development,” Rose says.

Further, with many employees still working remotely in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual volunteering can help boost morale and give employees a “greater sense of purpose when the rest of the world seems so far away,” Rose says. Employee engagement initiatives help remote employees stay connected to their organization’s purpose and values — which, during a crisis, is especially important.

In the end, the program’s driving force is a sense of belonging: Since its launch, Deloitte employees across business functions, levels and even countries have come together in pursuit of helping students achieve their dreams. Virtual volunteering offers a medium through which Deloitte’s workforce can use its talents and skills “out in the community,” Rose explains, developing students who will one day assume roles that are “critical to society.”

Whether you work for a large, multinational organization like Deloitte, or a small startup that is still gaining its footing in the market, virtual volunteering can engage, motivate and inspire your people long after they clock out for the day.