Giving back

Giving back

Silke Colquhoun takes a look at how to encourage volunteering in the workplace

South Africans are more likely to volunteer their time to an organisation, help a stranger and give money to a charity than the global average. Generosity is declining worldwide, especially among developed nations, according to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) World Giving Index 2017, which asked respondents in 139 countries whether they had volunteered their time in the past month, donated money or assisted someone they didn’t know who needed their help.

‘Africa is the only continent to buck this downward trend, experiencing an upswing across all three giving behaviours’, says the report. In South Africa, the number of people volunteering and donating money rose by five per cent while helping a stranger saw an increase of seven per cent (to 72%).

This spirit of generosity is echoed in the workplace, with the majority of South African companies (70%) offering employee volunteer programmes, says The Trialogue 2016 CSI Handbook. More than half of companies (52%) have formal volunteering policies and 58% have designated full- or part-time staff to manage volunteering.

Employee or workplace volunteer programmes are defined as ‘any formal or organised company support for employees who wish to give of their money, time and/or skills in service of the community’, according to corporate social investment (CSI) consultancy Trialogue.

Types of volunteering
‘When we ask non-profit organisations which type of volunteering they rate highest, they list company fundraising at the top, together with give-as-you-earn (where a portion of the salary is deducted) and matched funding (where the company matches the amount donated by employees),’ says Cathy Duff, director at Trialogue.

‘Next is pro bono or skills-based volunteering, where employees bring in their specific expertise. This could be someone from the corporate finance team helping an NPO with accounts and other financial issues, the marketing and communications team assisting with PR, website and social media or law firms offering free or discounted legal services to a non-profit.’

She adds that NPOs find hands-on staff volunteering – which includes building houses, planting vegetable gardens, manning soup kitchens and playing with vulnerable children – less beneficial because these activities are more time-consuming to coordinate and tend to be once-off. However, employee volunteers seem to particularly enjoy these physical outreach projects, because they enable direct interaction with local communities and beneficiaries.

Desiree Storey, manager of the FirstRand Volunteers Programme, helped establish the ‘Beyond Painting Classrooms’ initiative that promotes a developmental, long-term, shared-value approach to corporate employee volunteering.

‘Painting classrooms is still important and must continue’, she told Equinox. ‘Strong relationships are rooted at the stage where corporate employees spend time at organisations painting classrooms or jungle gyms, planting vegetable gardens, handing over food, clothing, blankets, toiletries, stationery, books and more.

‘The corporate-NPO relationship grows stronger over time. Trust is built, ideas are shared at each visit and the kind of giving changes to mentorship, and sharing of skills and knowledge. It’s important to match the need and the skill correctly, as this is when more long-term mutually beneficial relationships and meaningful volunteering leads to partnerships and sustainable initiatives.’

 Good corporate citizens
The best employee volunteering programmes (EVPs) are sustained, long-running initiatives that are aligned with the company business and CSI strategy. Trialogue said after hosting a CSI forum on the topic: ‘The more democratic and transparent the establishment of an EVP is, the easier it is to get staff buy-in. Companies could consider inviting external adjudicators to assess the selection process and help to choose projects.’

They should also not restrict their programmes to annual charity days (notably Mandela Day, which inspires mass volunteering around 18 July, the former president’s birthday), but consistently implement initiatives throughout the year. Ideally, companies should offer ‘a bouquet of different volunteering opportunities’ that gives employees a choice and increase their engagement.

‘Know your employees’, says Storey. She suggests running surveys to find out who they want to support and how. The same applies to the non-profit partners; visit or call them to find out their needs and wants. Ask how they like to work with corporate employees? How is the programme resourced, structured, governed and measured?

‘Make it easy and fun for staff to get involved,’ she advises. ‘Brand the volunteers with special volunteering T-shirts and caps to instil pride and excitement in being part of something bigger. Consider a central intranet portal or app as a form of communication where employees can source information and get involved quickly – from their mobile phones. Social media platforms are great for sharing volunteer photographs with captions and for reaching employees with exciting initiatives to “give back”.’

Some online platforms that connect volunteers and businesses to worthwhile causes (such as forgood.co.za) can be customised for corporates so only employees have access, whereas the regular portal is open to all, says Shanda Paine, Tsogo Sun Group CSI manager.

‘We use this platform as a way of tracking employee participation in volunteering, but also to notify them of opportunities to volunteer time or donate goods and just create awareness.’

Making a difference 
The FirstRand Volunteers Programme has raised more than R54 million in time and money since its inception in 2003. The group matches employee donations on a rand-for-rand basis and encourages the sharing of knowledge and skills, such as graduates mentoring the children of support staff in maths and science.

Other examples of skills-based volunteering include Telkom employees becoming ‘cybersafety ambassadors’ who teach youth about online bullying and protecting their electronic devices; the Industrial Development Corporation sending staff as mentors into ‘adopted’ secondary schools; and probono.org, an organisation that facilitates free legal services for the poor by volunteer private lawyers.

Old Mutual, another leader in employee volunteering, encourages all staff to take one day’s paid ‘social responsibility’ leave to participate in community projects.

‘I am constantly amazed at the generosity and intrinsic culture of giving among our employees, at every single level and throughout the year,’ says Tsogo Sun’s Paine. ‘Some come up with their own ideas, others ask how and where they can get involved. They are proof that many small gestures can add up to something significant, making a real difference where it counts.’

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