Employees constitute one of the largest and most influential stakeholder groups in the corporate world. They spend a lot of their time in the workplace and are often looking for opportunities to meaningfully contribute to society, outside of their jobs. According to Brenda Nkosi-Bakare, Head of the Sasol Global Foundation, this sense of purpose can be provided through employee volunteerism. In addition, employee volunteer programmes (EVP) are some of the most effective ways through which corporates can engage with the communities in which they operate. However, this is not always an easy process, with Trialogue’s 2017 research into the state of corporate social investment in South Africa finding that the types of EVP that non-profit organisations’ require do not always line up with what companies commonly offer.
Under the theme of stakeholder interaction for social good at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2018, a panel discussion facilitated by Trialogue director Cathy Duff looked at local and global trends, as well as innovative and best practice approaches to employee volunteerism.
Local trends in employee volunteerism
According to Desiree Storey, Manager of The FirstRand Volunteers Programme, sustainability and EVP are drawing more attention from top management and corporates are becoming more thoughtful about the difference between ‘doing well’ and ‘doing good’.
According to Storey, business is a naturally competitive arena and companies can be fiercely protective of information about their EVPs; making the sharing of approaches, innovative ideas and replication difficult. Storey also runs Beyond Painting Classrooms (BPC), an initiative established by the FirstRand Group with support from Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa. BPC provides opportunities for those passionate about employee volunteering to learn best practice and build a collective knowledge base through reflective engagement and collaboration. BPC has identified the need to unpack the future of employee volunteerism, including developing systems that will best facilitate knowledge sharing and leadership involvement.
Global trends in employee volunteerism
“There is a trend among big corporations, away from ad hoc programmes, to strategy aligned volunteerism. This can be seen in the example of IBM’s 2008 Corporate Services Call, through which employees are embedded into organisations around the world to work on issues challenging that particular organisation to move it forward.” This, according to Amina Ismail of PYXERA Global. Programmes are demand driven and carefully selected to ensure a fit between the skills and services offered by a corporate and the needs of an organisation. It is not just another set of hands, but rather to answer the question: what can skilled volunteers do to take non-profits to the next level?
Apart from benefits for the corporate and non-profit, volunteering programmes also facilitate career and personal development given that high-potential employees are selected and exposed to new contexts and challenges. Pushing boundaries on a personal level, employees improve skills such as leadership, critical thinking and innovation. This helps with improving staff retention, particularly among millennials who value making a difference.
How can companies do employee volunteerism in more than 67 minutes?
Forgood is an online employee volunteering platform that represents 14 corporates and over 10 000 employees. According to CEO Andy Hadfield, anecdotal evidence shows that though the importance of CSI in general is now widely recognised, generally, people still do not prioritise EVP. Instead, Hadfield says, “there is a strong tendency among corporates of wanting to impose a rabid desire to paint classrooms on their beneficiaries”. That said, the market seems to be catching up with an increase in the number of skilled volunteers, such as teams of lawyers, accountants and people interested in serving on boards, signing up to offer their time and services.
Driving best practice
Sasol is seen as one of the drivers of best practice in the employee volunteering space. Though the company has its own focal areas, it is committed to understanding what employees are interested in and how this ties in with the needs of the non-profits that they work with. Sasol employees receive 40 hours of volunteering leave per annum and are encouraged to share information on where they have volunteered. This information can then be used to increase capacity in those projects, should there be a need.
Based on its experiences over the year, Sasol has evolved from having a large company-led volunteering initiative to a few employee-driven and carefully selected projects. To reduce the burden on host non-profits, not more than five people participate in any given activity. Sasol’s culture of staff volunteerism is actively sustained through its support for employee-led volunteerism and information-sharing. The company is also committed to creating an enabling environment for the spirit of community-building which is deeply ingrained in the South African psyche, as espoused in the principles of ubuntu. The company is currently in the process of developing an initiative through which team volunteering efforts will be recognised.
Aligning employee volunteerism with strategy
Employee engagement programmes play an important role in boosting staff morale and enhancing brand value for companies. It is also clear that employers – whether in the private, public or civil society sectors – can play a catalytic role in supporting employees to embrace their civic duty in support of development. This is expected to be reflected in the evolution of EVPs over the next few years.
Written by Connie Huma, edited by Zyaan Davids
Fltr: Brenda Nkosi-Bakare, Sasol Global Foundation; Amina Ismail, PYXERA Global; Andy Hadfield, forgood; Desiree Storey, FirstRand Volunteers; Cathy Duff, Trialogue
Image © Brett Eloff