Since the late 2000s, the term “employee engagement” has escaped the closed door of the HR department and become widespread in management practice as a shared responsibility across the organisation. The capacity to keep your people motivated and committed has turned into a key indicator of leadership success. In parallel, “corporate volunteerism”—employees dedicating some of their paid time for the benefit of a good cause—has developed into a driver for engagement and a popular way of motivating your staff. Today’s workforces, particularly millennials, say they want to find a sense of purpose at work, and one way to do that is by increasing the options available for them to give back to the community.
But what’s on the other side of the fence? Does corporate volunteerism always produce a positive outcome for non-profit organisations? From my personal experience, not always, and at times it can even be a burden! Often, the corporation genuinely wants to do something meaningful, but is constrained by the large number of employees, varied by age, interests and capabilities, as well as a limited amount of time and only superficial knowledge of the cause they are supporting.
Yet, corporate volunteering programs can definitely help non-profits. How? When organised well, volunteering activities can be a win-win endeavour for both your company employees and the non-profit beneficiaries.
Fundraising for a good cause
Generally speaking, the most welcome way to help non-profit organisations is to financially assist them. Engage your employees in a fundraising event such as having them bake cupcakes, participate in a sports tournament or a marathon, attend an auction dinner, or partake in a raffle or crowdfunding campaign. Have your staff involved in all stages of the fundraising event, from choosing the cause or charity, recruiting volunteers, distributing flyers, right through to promoting the event on social media. While the purpose, target and objectives of the fundraising event should be based on the non-profit’s needs and directions, corporate volunteers can be the go-getters and bring their skills, ideas and connections to each activity.
Repairing a wall, painting a community centre, teaching a foreign language, reading books to children—these are all common volunteering activities. While they may be easy to organise and are engaging for participants, they are not necessarily required by non-profits (unless you’re a professional builder, painter, teacher or educator, that is). What a non-profit might really need is your professional expertise, not just an extra pair of hands. “Skill-based volunteering” refers to employees using and sharing their specialised skills, talents, experiences and resources—the same things for which they are paid to do professionally. Professional skills are often the invaluable contribution that non-profits need.
Skill-based volunteering can be done at any level of the organisation. An experienced manager could coach and mentor a more junior peer in the non-profit, or advise the future direction of the non-profit by serving as a board member. A secretary could help to reorganise inventories and archives. An accountant could assist with bookkeeping. IT professionals could help set up office computers in a non-profit or educate its staff on how to use certain software systems. These types of volunteering activities are a treasured asset for nonprofits that would not have the financial means to pay for additional qualified resources.
Encourage your employees to be skill-based volunteers by putting a policy in place that allows them to devote a certain number of paid days for a charitable cause. In return, skill-based volunteers can create a deep-rooted two-way relationship between the corporation and the non-profit, and engage in the opportunity to make a lasting impact.
Sometimes corporations prefer to directly purchase and provide donated items, rather than simply giving funds to non-profits. That is perfectly acceptable, as long as these types of donations have been previously agreed upon with the non-profit partners. For example, one of the most overrated charitable activities is donating second-hand clothes. Used clothing requires money for laundry, space for storage, man-hours for sifting through them and distributing them to people who might really need them—all of which a non-profit can do without. Instead, try asking your employees to collect unused but still functioning office technology items, such as computers, printers and mobile phones. Office furniture can also be useful for non-profits. The best approach would be to ask the non-profit beforehand what their needs are.
In its true sense, corporate volunteering links responsible and meaningful volunteerism, animated by a true spirit of reciprocity and mutual exchange, to learning and benefits at both ends. I invite all corporate managers to give it a try.