Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is still an important tool for employers when attempting to attract and retain both customers and employees. A recent article I read on Ikea is a good example, with the Swedish furniture giant launching a second furniture buy-back program to encourage sustainable living.

Of course, not many businesses have the resources of a global organisation such as Ikea to invest in CSR programs, but being a good corporate citizen can take a number of forms. In an economy that is still reeling from the Covid pandemic, it’s understandable that businesses are looking for ways to do this that don’t negatively impact their own bottom line.

Some of you may have seen my article on being an Employer of Choice recently, in which Volunteering was suggested as a cost-effective way of giving back to the community. Yet with the resources of most businesses stretched at present, is it possible for Volunteering programs to make a positive contribution to both the individual, the community AND the employer?

%

of volunteers said they developed core work skills while performing their volunteering duties

The Benefits to Business

 Most companies have traditionally viewed Volunteering programs as a way for their staff to give back to the community, as well as giving the employee a greater sense of purpose, with increased employee engagement being the desired outcome. However, many don’t necessarily appreciate that those employees can actually develop and enhance skills while Volunteering that could benefit their employer on their return.  According to a recent survey by Accenture:

 “76% of volunteers said they developed core work skills while performing their volunteering duties”

 

 One possible reason for this is a lack of understanding for the nature of the work their employees may undertake as part of their volunteering experience. The idea of developing “core work skills” runs counter to the traditional view of Volunteering activities, which can be seen as primarily within “frontline” functions such as helping out in a soup kitchen or retail environment. However, what if your marketing or accounts team could actually gain experience as a volunteer in their chosen field? This would benefit not only the individual in enhancing their career, but also the employer in terms of increased productivity, as well as their loyalty for an organisation offering these opportunities. working with the employee to find a worthwhile/ fulfilling volunteering opportunity. Which poses the question, is there a need for volunteers in corporate services functions?

Rethinking the needs of the Not-For-Profit Sector

The demands on the Not for Profit sector have changed significantly in the last decade, with legislation creating the need for many to be run with a more commercial focus, particularly in markets where they compete for customers with similar service. As a result, many have had to develop more robust internal processes and invest in enhanced corporate services functions to cope with this changing landscape.

To gain more insight into this, we contacted experienced HR Consultant Zoe Pashley of Jackson Talent Management, who has recently invested time volunteering with a local community housing organisation as part of her organisation’s CSR initiative. As Zoe explains during our conversation, when initially contacting the organisation in question, she was expecting to lend a hand with community events. However, on sitting down with management to discuss them how she could help, she found that it was her Human Resources expertise that was of most benefit. As they explained to her,

“most not for profit organisations would get more benefit from help in their corporate functions such as HR or Marketing, than in their frontline services.” 

After outlining her subsequent work in revamping this organisations’ HR policies, Zoe gives an interesting insight that senior management at the organisation shared with her during her volunteering experience. It actually creates more work for Not for Profit organisations to conduct basic training on delivering their frontline services, than it does in performing a corporate function you are already skilled in. Added to the fact that, in this scenario, their inhouse HR capabilities skills weren’t aligned to the changing needs of the organisation, it’s not surprising on reflection that they engaged her to deliver what she did!  

Skills Based Volunteering

The benefits to the Not for Profit in the above example are clear to see, but it also gave Zoe experience working in a new sector, which she can subsequently use to benefit other potential paid clients in a similar field. This concept of “Skills-based Volunteering” is not necessarily a new one, but it’s often overlooked when considering the holistic benefits of introducing Volunteering into an organisation’s CSR program. It’s also worth considering the range of activities that it could include, for example:

  • setting up a website
  • writing human resources policy
  • developing media and promotions strategy
  • teaching basic administrative/computer skills
  • designing and creating a newsletter
  • developing a funding bid
  • contributing a podcast/guest blog
  • joining a committee.

All of the above disciplines could be of benefit to a Not for Profit organisation, and more importantly, are the types of roles often found in commercial businesses. If it’s possible to combine the needs of community organisations with the skills your organisation needs to develop further, the potential for a win-win scenario is obvious.  In many ways, this scenario can contribute to triple bottom line efficiencies by adding significant value for the donor organisation as well as the recipient.  

It’s worth pointing out that, in order to be achieve the maximum benefit for all parties, any volunteering scheme needs to part of a structured approach, with clear priorities, goals and processes, linked directly to organizational objectives and the ability to measure its impact.

Successful volunteering schemes are based on structured, honest and regular engagement with employees, and their feedback is critical in ensuring the ongoing development of such programs.

If these structures can be put in place, the evidence above would suggest that the benefits can be significant. In the current climate of tight budgets and increased focus on bottom line outcomes, a Volunteer program could not only contribute to your employee engagement but also help develop skills that your business can utilise going forward.

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