Employee volunteering programmes (EVPs) can create connection, meaning, and a sense of shared purpose in the workplace, which can translate to increased employee engagement and improved hiring and retention. They also hold the potential to support non-profit organisations (NPOs) with their work and projects. Mandela Day has created a valuable springboard for EVPs, but how can EVPs create sustainable impact?
Trialogue’s primary research in the Business in Society Handbook 2022 (25th edition) shows that 75% of companies have EVPs. Although most companies organise staff volunteering initiatives/days, this is the least-preferred EVP type for NPOs, who prefer match funding and fundraising drives.
Trialogue’s July 2023 webinar engaged panellists Vovo Ngcwabe, social impact consultant for Barloworld, Romy Heldsinger, forgood CEO, and Ladles of Love CEO and founder Daniele Diliberto, on how to make volunteering more strategic, sustainable and impactful for both companies and NPOs.
Employee-directed volunteering in action for Barloworld
Employee participation is essential for a successful EVP. Barloworld takes volunteerism seriously and takes a multifaceted approach to implementation. Employees nominate NPOs to support through volunteering efforts, and Barloworld also has a match-funding programme.
Ngcwabe explained that these employee-led efforts often support community-based organisations that might not otherwise have attracted Barloworld’s attention. In this way, projects that are meaningful to employees receive funding and dedicated employee volunteer time, which Barloworld supports through paid time off.
The rise of virtual volunteering
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a rise in virtual volunteering, which allows volunteers to meet certain NPO needs, from bookkeeping and financial structuring to strategic and communications support, from a distance.
For Barloworld, this took the form of an internal platform that connects volunteers with causes. At the suggestion of employees, and with help from the IT department, Barloworld implemented the platform and migrated some existing programmes to the virtual space.
Ngcwabe notes that although the increase in virtual volunteering witnessed during the earlier stages of the pandemic have since dipped, with many employees opting instead for more physical volunteering efforts, it remains useful for international employees. Overall company volunteering participation rates are at about 65%.
This is a substantially higher level than the company participation average of 15% that forgood has recorded across its client base over the past eight years. Forgood connects individuals and companies to causes, and tracks and measures staff volunteering participation in several different ways.
Heldsinger said that in 2022, company volunteering participation rates rose to a gratifying 23%. She added that virtual volunteering remains a valuable option, particularly in the context of hybrid-work situations.
Reconciling company and NPO volunteering objectives
With company volunteerism seemingly on the rise, the challenge of ensuring these good intentions accompany meaningful impact remains. Webinar panellists considered some of the issues that NPOs and companies must navigate together to ensure greater impact.
Firstly, the process of establishing a relationship with companies can be a difficult one for NPOs. Heldsinger explained that, while platforms such as forgood are helpful, it can still be challenging for on-the-ground NPOs focused on their cause to attract companies to support their efforts.
From the corporate perspective, Ngcwabe said that companies are wary of reputational risks, making them cautious about embarking on partnerships, which require a great deal of time, trust and effort to build. Ngcwabe emphasised the need for NPOs to show transparency and credibility when building relationships.
Heldsinger added that there is often a mismatch between what companies want to give and what NPOs actually need. Although companies need to be more aware of what kind of support a particular NPO requires, NPOs should also be strategic and clear when communicating their needs.
Supporting the operational and business needs of an NPO
The second challenge is that an NPO cannot survive on volunteerism alone, because there are significant material and logistical costs involved in running operations and projects.
He said that delivering meaningful impact alongside companies requires NPOs to adjust their mindsets, operating more as businesses do. This includes building relationships with companies and viewing them as stakeholders rather than donors, investing in operational tools to track and communicate with stakeholders, as well as tracking and measuring impact and regular reporting to demonstrate value.
Investment in fundraising and brand building is a necessary part of building trust that will deliver productive stakeholder relationships and ultimately create greater impact.
Recommendations for driving volunteering impact beyond Mandela month
Panellists reinforced the importance of extending company volunteerism beyond a single month towards more sustained and integrated giving.
Panellists offered their recommendations for companies looking to create more sustainable EVPs.
- Establish an EVP strategy or policy that serves as a guiding principle for volunteer efforts.
- Encourage employees to participate in EVPs by:
- allowing different business units to drive their own volunteering initiatives
- encouraging unstructured volunteering to accommodate individual employee passions
- matching volunteering activities with employees’ skills
- Marketing and communications campaigns
- identifying and amplifying passionate employees to champion causes
- giving recognition and awards
- Allow employees the time, space, and “permission to play”, with top-down support for them to volunteer.
- Engage human resources in EVP development.
- Create a culture of volunteering within the organisation.
- Ensure volunteering is CEO-led, instead of allowing it to become a tick-box exercise.