Sarah Ford | June 20, 2014

Companies can embrace volunteerism

By Rich Mkhondo

As organisations, companies and individuals across the world celebrate Mandela Day to encourage voluntary service in honour of South Africa’s founding father of democracy, employers are slowly applying their company’s business strategy to volunteerism.

This week, millions of people around the world will take 67 minutes to do something good for someone else as former president Nelson Mandela celebrates his 95th birthday in his hospital bed.

Each minute represents one year that our former president and democracy icon has been politically active.

First let us agree that volunteering is just that – optional. Mandatory volunteering is an oxymoron. Volunteer programmes must be developed to mirror corporate culture and must be done with sincerity, not merely for public relations benefits.

Indeed, volunteerism cannot be forced. However, the corporate strategic link helps employees to trace their career path back to volunteerism experiences that taught them new skills, gave them confidence, earned them respect, and developed their humility and care for their communities.

Experts say that by emphasising opportunities for workers to grow their job skills through volunteer projects, strategic volunteerism rewards the company and the community.

Reed Dewey, the director of corporate partnerships for the Points of Light Foundation, which promotes volunteerism across the US, describes three major components for “excellence” in workplace volunteering programmes.

First, companies must “acknowledge that employee volunteer efforts contribute to the achievement of business goals”.

Second, they must “commit to establish, support and promote an employee volunteer programme that encourages the involvement of every employee and to manage that programme like it’s any other business function”, Dewey says.

Finally, they must “target workplace volunteering to focus on specific social problems in the community”.

He advises companies to take a hard look at their corporate culture and suggests promoting collaboration across departments and divisions in developing volunteer programmes.

Dewey’s view is supported by research by the Council on Foundations, a leading US advocate for philanthropy that worked with consultancy Walker Information.

The research shows that to be successful, a volunteerism programme must acknowledge that employee volunteer efforts contribute to achieving business goals.

The initiative should focus workplace volunteering on specific social problems in the community that are identified with the business. It is important to get senior management buy-in and determine time-off policies before implementation.

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