Employee volunteer programmes (EVPs) are a fast-growing area of corporate social responsibility. Well-structured EVPs represent an opportunity for employees to make a meaningful contribution to society. However, if not carefully structured and managed, EVPs can expose corporates, their staff and even the communities they wish to serve to risks. Andy Hadfield, CEO and founder of forgood, South Africa’s largest volunteering platform, moderated a breakout session at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2019, on how to engage employees in meaningful EVP while also mitigating and managing potential risks.
Business benefits of EVPs
All panelists agreed that EVP is good for business. Among other benefits, it has proven to be instrumental in employee recruitment, staff retention and morale. According to Charlene Lackay from MMI, employees generally want to be active citizens and increasingly want to work for companies that are socially responsible and give back to society. EVPs provide a platform for staff to be active citizens and make a contribution to their communities. Sasol runs one of the largest EVPs which, according to Brenda Nkosi-Bakare, head of Sasol Global Foundation, is a valued employee benefit to staff. The programme similarly offers employees a platform to contribute to causes that they are passionate about.
EVP-related risks can be mitigated through well-structured and managed programmes
According to Gill Bates, CEO of the Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa, the EVP sector is fraught with potential risks that can be harmful to corporates, non-profit organisations (NPOs) and their beneficiaries, and the volunteers themselves. Corporates can be harmed reputationally by poorly managed programmes. Programmes that are unstructured and disorganised can be disruptive to NPOs who may feel as if they were distracted from their core work but for little benefit. If expectations are not clearly managed, programmes can lead to beneficiary and volunteer disappointment in the sponsoring company. If volunteers are not well trained, the experience can be distressing and overwhelming.
Sasol has developed an EVP policy that has been examined by their internal audit unit and approved by the board.
MMI applies its regular due diligence processes and staff code of conduct to its EVP programmes, but has developed practical mechanisms to promote a responsible EVP. A component of MMI’s strategy to ensure that the volunteering is well-structured and managed is to appoint ‘champion volunteers’ who take the lead when out in the field. ‘Champion volunteers’ are company staff that are experienced in volunteering. In practice, peers also monitor and hold each other accountable.
According to Bates, volunteers must be managed and it is the responsibility of companies and NPOs to ensure that volunteers are well briefed and trained on what they need to do and “the rules of engagement”. She says that strong communication and clear articulation of expectations of corporates and NPOs is key to avoiding some of the risks mentioned above. Corporates must allow NPOs to articulate their needs. Over the last few years, NPOs have found more of a voice in EVPs and are no longer “passive participants”.
‘Pay it forward’ incentives is a strategy that some companies use to increase participation in their EVP. Employees are ‘rewarded’ for their participation through company contributions to charities or causes of their choice. For Sasol, introducing new staff to the EVP in their induction programme has been a successful method for increasing participation.
A conference delegate noted that for smaller firms, available resources to mobilise staff and manage them in an EVP are minimal. Andy Hadfield suggested distributing the responsibility across the business by finding heads of divisions or teams to drive the EVP agenda. An example of how to do this could be to incorporate CSI key performance areas into the performance appraisals of all staff, including senior managers.
Employees might also be more excited about participating in volunteering initiatives where they can use their skills. Innovative EVPs and initiatives like the forgood platform are changing the perception of volunteering by promoting skills-based volunteering that allows volunteers to build a relationship with NPOs that provides some sustained value to the volunteer and the NPO.
IMAGE: Fltr-Andy Hadfield (forgood), Brenda Nkosi-Bakare (Sasol), Charlene Lackay (MMI), Gill Bates (CAFSA)
Article written by Rebecca Mhere
Photo taken by Cobus Oosthuizen